America's 10 Best Senators

Those who make a difference in the U.S. Senate — and five Senators who are falling short

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Kennedy was a bit of a joke when he first arrived in Washington in 1962. When John F. Kennedy was elected President in 1960, he kept his Massachusetts Senate seat warm for his youngest sibling, placing a college buddy in it for two years until Teddy reached the constitutionally required age of 30. But starting with a 1965 bill that did away with country-by-country quotas for immigrants, and especially in the quarter-century since his failed 1980 campaign for President, Kennedy, 74, has amassed a titanic record of legislation affecting the lives of virtually every man, woman and child in the country. With a succession of Republicans, he helped create COBRA, the Americans with Disabilities Act, portable health care, the Family and Medical Leave Act and more than 15 key education programs, including the landmark 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act. He also pushed through the deregulation of the airline and trucking industries and the reduction of the voting age to 18. By the late '90s, the liberal icon had become such a prodigious cross-aisle dealer that Republican leaders began pressuring party colleagues not to sponsor bills with him.

Some bipartisan efforts have backfired on Kennedy. He has complained that he was taken in by Bush on the No Child Left Behind law because it was inadequately funded, and Democrats are distressed that he has collaborated with Republicans on immigration reform. Worse than that, critics say, Kennedy's inability to stop the confirmation of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito show he's losing his swat. But Kennedy still finds a way to deliver the goods for the less advantaged. Over the next five years, more than 100,000 severely disabled children will become beneficiaries of a new $872 million program that continues government health-care payments to them even as they move out of poverty. Kennedy and Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley managed to slip the program into last year's budget.

BEST: OLYMPIA J. SNOWE

The Provider

Because of her centrist views and eagerness to get beyond partisan point scoring, Maine Republican Olympia Snowe is in the center of every policy debate in Washington. Last year she was one of 14 Senators who reached a compromise on President Bush's judicial nominees that prevented a Senate meltdown between the two parties. More recently, she helped craft an agreement to increase congressional oversight of the Administration's no-warrant surveillance program, helping ease tensions between the Senate and the White House.

But while Snowe, 59, is a major player on national issues, she is also known as one of the most effective advocates for her constituents. First elected in 1994, she goes back to Maine nearly every weekend, often stopping in a small town for what she calls a "Main Street tour"--walking the streets and visiting shops to ask people what they're thinking about. "It's better than any poll I can think of,'' she says. When Snowe returns to Capitol Hill, she looks to fix the problems Maine residents have told her about: she successfully fought to keep open two Maine military facilities recommended for closure last year, and last month she got passed a bill that will provide millions to pay the heating bills of low-income people, a huge worry in frigid Maine.

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