In 1975, '78, and '79, Kennedy introduced health-care bills, noting in 1978 that "my highest personal priority on domestic legislation has been the enactment of a comprehensive program of national health insurance for the benefit of every American citizen." None of those bills went anywhere, and Kennedy's disagreement with the White House over that issue was one of the reasons he challenged Jimmy Carter in the Democratic primaries in 1980.
But the arrival of Clinton at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has, at last, given Kennedy an opening – not just on health care, but on a whole range of social legislation. Since Clinton became president, Kennedy has successfully championed the Family and Medical Leave Act, the crime bill, the education bill, the Goals 200 Educate America Act, the Technology for Education Act, the Safe Schools Act, the student-loan reform, national service, the expansion of Head Start, the Violence Against Women Act, the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (which protects abortion clinics), the Comprehensive Childhood Immunization Act, amendments for early detection of illness and for preventive medicine, the Religious Freedom Restoration act (protecting religious practices that were threatened by a 1990 Supreme Court decision), the Workers Technology Skills Development Act, and massive funding for the prevention and treatment of breast and cervical cancers. And those are just the highlights.
Under Clinton, the flow of federal dollars to Massachusetts has increased because of Kennedy-sponsored legislation and Kennedy's clout with Cabinet members.
Take education, for example. The Kennedy-authored Head Start expansion will bring an addition $120 million to Massachusetts in fiscal 1995. Kennedy's Goals 2000, a new program, brings $8.7 million in school grants to Massachusetts in fiscal '95. Another $168 million comes to the state over the next year from his Improving America's Schools Act – and Kennedy also persuaded the Labor Department to change the funding formula so that Massachusetts will get $10 million more next year. Kennedy's National Service Act will bring another $10 million, at least. His school-to-work job-training act will bring $27.5 million to the state over five years, and Massachusetts is a finalist for another $16 million that may – in this election year – be announced imminently. And Kennedy's Student Loan Reform Act disproportionately helps the state not only because 38 Massachusetts colleges and universities will participate next year, but because a higher percentage of Bay State students go to college than is the case with other states.
The Clinton presidency has already ushered another of Kennedy's long-time priorities to the forefront: gun control. After the assassination of his brother Robert, Kennedy took on the National Rifle Association and for many years his proposals to restrict the flow of guns in America were no more popular or successful than his health-care bills.
But since Clinton's inauguration, Congress has passed the first major federal gun-control laws: the Brady bill, requiring a seven-day waiting period for purchase of handguns, and the assault-weapons ban, passed as part of this year's crime bill.
Despite the highly publicized failure of health-care reform so far, advocates hope their issue will parallel the gun issue, and finally see success in the Clinton era.
But many of them fear that a Kennedy defeat this November would destroy the chances of national health care ever passing. "If Ted isn't re-elected," says Joyce Cunha, of Mass Choice, a group that has been working with Kennedy to make sure any health-care bill includes reproductive services, "President Clinton can say good-bye to health care."