Sen. Orrin Hatch capped his decadeslong friendship with cancer-stricken Sen. Ted Kennedy on Thursday with a gesture that had Kennedy hugging him as other senators stood and applauded: Hatch renamed a bill they had just passed to expand national service programs the Edward M. Kennedy National Service Law.
"It is a great honor to be able to add the name of a very good friend and senator, one of the most distinguished of all-time, to this bill," Hatch told the Senate. "We expect this to multiply into 7 million volunteers, and to call it the Edward M. Kennedy bill is a great honor for all of us."
Ironically, when Hatch first ran for the Senate back in 1976, he said he was running so he could go to Washington and fight Kennedy. But they managed to become close friends — and worked on many bills through the years trying to bridge interests between liberals and conservatives.
About their, perhaps, last bill together, Hatch said, "It marries what is typically thought of as a 'liberal' instinct for government to make proactive efforts to help those in need with the typical 'conservative' desire to place more power in the hands of individuals instead of the government."
The bill passed on a 79-19 vote. Kennedy stood in the Senate to watch the vote, even though he has been away from the Senate for most of the year as he battles brain cancer.
The House passed a similar version last week on a 321-105 vote. The House is expected to vote Monday to accept Senate amendments — including the new name of the bill — and President Obama is expected to sign it Monday.
The bill by Kennedy and Hatch would authorize spending $5.7 billion over five years to expand or create a variety of national service programs, including tripling the size of AmeriCorps from 75,000 positions to 250,000. It has been seen as a sort of going-away honor for Kennedy.
Kennedy said in a written statement, "Today's Senate passage of the Serve America Act demonstrates welcome bipartisan agreement on the often neglected but indispensable value of citizen service in addressing some of the most urgent challenges facing America and the world."
The legislation would increase the education reward for participants in national volunteer programs from $4,725 to $5,350 a year, and that will automatically increase with the maximum Pell grant in the future. Volunteers older than 55 could transfer the education reward to a child, foster child or grandchild.