As I look at the 2009 attempts to bring major health care reform to the United States, I hope that the Democrats’ past failures to overhaul the health care system will be a telling reminder that this time could be different. Will the passing of Ted Kennedy inspire our nation’s legislators to find a meaningful compromise that can advance the holy trinity of health reform—increased coverage, reduced health cost inflation and higher quality—even if it still leaves important health problems unresolved? Put simply, can today’s highly partisan Congress enact a bill that helps America’s citizens achieve access to high quality affordable health care? Or will history continue to repeat itself with the Congress, including the fractious Democrats, unable to pass a bill that moves the health care system in a good, if not perfect, direction?

This time around, the politicians on Capitol Hill will have to go it alone without the older, wiser lion of the Senate, the health care reform idealist who became a health care pragmatist as well. This time around, when the time comes for cutting a deal, many politicians on Capitol Hill will undoubtedly be asking themselves, “What would Ted do?”

Cristine Russell is a CJR contributing editor and the president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing and a senior fellow at Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. She is a former Shorenstein Center fellow and Washington Post reporter.