U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, chairman, Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee

HELP Chairman to Receive Medal of Freedom

Sen. Ted Kennedy, the ailing Massachusetts Democrat, is among 16 people whom President Obama will honor on Aug. 12.

Sen. Ted Kennedy, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the Senate's most vigorous champion of health care reform, is among 16 people chosen by President Obama to receive the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. Kennedy is battling brain cancer and has been absent from the Senate most of this year. Obama also chose cancer and medical pioneers, sports stars, two actors, the first female president of Ireland (Mary Robinson), and Desmond Tutu of South Africa.

Kennedy's committee is the Senate's oversight panel for the Labor Department, and it holds confirmation hearings on nominees including the OSHA leader and the secretary of Labor. The White House announcement of the honorees said this about Kennedy: "Senator Edward M. Kennedy has served in the United States Senate for forty-six years, and has been one of the greatest lawmakers – and leaders – of our time. From reforming our public schools to strengthening civil rights laws and supporting working Americans, Senator Kennedy has dedicated his career to fighting for equal opportunity, fairness and justice for all Americans. He has worked tirelessly to ensure that every American has access to quality and affordable health care, and has succeeded in doing so for countless children, seniors, and Americans with disabilities. He has called health care reform the 'cause of his life,' and has championed nearly every health care bill enacted by Congress over the course of the last five decades. Known as the 'Lion of the Senate,' Senator Kennedy is widely respected on both sides of the aisle for his commitment to progress and his ability to legislate."

The announcement said the awardees "have changed the world for the better. They have blazed trails and broken down barriers. They have discovered new theories, launched new initiatives, and opened minds to new possibilities." It quoted the president as saying, "Their tremendous accomplishments span fields from science to sports, from fine arts to foreign affairs. Yet they share one overarching trait: Each has been an agent of change. Each saw an imperfect world and set about improving it, often overcoming great obstacles along the way."

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