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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Nearly three years after he died, Nancy Pelosi was thinking of Senator Ted Kennedy and his long fight to expand U.S. healthcare on Thursday when the Supreme Court upheld the centerpiece of President Barack Obama's landmark healthcare overhaul.
Pelosi, who was Speaker of the House of Representatives when healthcare reform was finally passed by Congress in 2010, made a call to Kennedy's widow Victoria Kennedy shortly after the Supreme Court decision.
"Now Teddy can rest," Pelosi told Kennedy, whose husband had called overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system "the cause of my life."
Kennedy repeatedly took the lead in helping to expand U.S. healthcare during his 46-year Senate career right until he died of cancer in August 2009 - seven months before the Affordable Care Act was passed by Congress.
Victoria Kennedy issued a statement applauding the Supreme Court's decision and said it was time for all sides to come together to implement the law.
"As my late husband Senator Edward Kennedy said, 'What we face is above all a moral issue; that at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country.'"
Pelosi, who was wearing the same lucky purple pumps on Thursday that she wore the day healthcare legislation passed on March 21, 2010, had worked with Kennedy to convince lawmakers to approve the changes to U.S. healthcare.
Kennedy's death cost Obama's Democrats their 60th vote in the Senate - the vote that would have enabled them to clear Republican procedural hurdles. Without Kennedy, Democrats had to cut more deals than anticipated to finally win passage of the measure.
As speaker, Pelosi took a risk by convincing lawmakers to pass Obama's signature healthcare law.
Pelosi, now the Democratic leader in a House of Representatives controlled by Republicans, was in good humor after the ruling. As she headed to meet Democratic lawmakers to discuss the decision she ran into a fellow Californian, Representative George Miller.
"What a great victory," Pelosi said as the two hugged.
"You bet your ass (it is)," Miller replied.
"I did," Pelosi responded with a laugh, clearly referring to the risks she took to get the legislation through Congress.
(This story is filed to change headline to clarify that Pelosi's comment is to Victoria Kennedy)
Reporting by Donna Smith, Deborah Charles and Thomas Ferraro; Editing by Jackie Frank