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Kennedy Briefly Returns to Senate

Senator Ted Kennedy, battling brain cancer, surprised Senate colleagues Wednesday when he returned to the chamber to cast a decisive vote on government health care legislation for the elderly and disabled, known as Medicare. His vote was key to passing the measure, which had long been stalled amid partisan gridlock. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

It was a moment of drama as Senator Kennedy entered the chamber, prompting applause from Democrats and Republicans alike on the Senate floor and cheers from spectators up in the gallery.

It was his first time back to the Senate since he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor following a seizure at his home in Massachusetts in May. Since then, he has undergone surgery and is now getting chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

Kennedy walked into the chamber accompanied by Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, fellow Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, and Kennedy's son, Congressman Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island. He cast his vote and soon after left to return to Massachusetts to continue his cancer treatment.

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Texas Republican, took note of the moment. "We have had a very dramatic moment here on the floor of the Senate, and I think there wasn't a person in the room or the gallery who wasn't thrilled to see Senator Kennedy back and looking so good, to do what he always does, and that is have the commitment and go the extra mile to keep that commitment," she said.

Kennedy's dramatic return was key to clearing the way for passage of the Medicare bill.

Republicans, including Senator Hutchison, had criticized Democratic leaders for not allowing the measure to be amended, and had blocked the bill from advancing on the Senate floor. Under Senate rules, 60 votes are needed in the 100-member chamber to overcome the roadblock. The bill received the support of only 59 senators in a procedural vote last month.

When Republicans learned that Kennedy's vote would advance the legislation, some of them joined Democrats to support the move - a fitting tribute to Kennedy, who is known as a champion of health care, among other social issues.

Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, announced the vote as she presided over the Senate. "The yeas are 69, the nays are 30. Three-fifths of the senators duly chosen and sworn, having voted in the affirmative, the motion is agreed to."

Under a previous agreement, once the bill met the 60-vote threshold, it was considered approved.