WASHINGTON — Former President Jimmy Carter says Americans could have had comprehensive health care coverage decades ago if Sen. Edward M. Kennedy hadn't blocked a plan Carter had proposed.
Carter revisited the old spat in an interview with CBS' "60 Minutes" to be aired Sunday. Portions of the interview, prompted by the publication of his White House diary, were posted on the program's website Thursday.
"The fact is that we would have had comprehensive health care now, had it not been for Ted Kennedy's deliberately blocking the legislation that I proposed," Carter said in the interview. "It was his fault. Ted Kennedy killed the bill."
Carter cast his Democratic rival as spiteful. "He did not want to see me have a major success in that realm of life," Carter said.
The Massachusetts senator unsuccessfully challenged Carter for the 1980 Democratic presidential nomination. Carter then lost to Republican Ronald Reagan.
Kennedy, who made health care reform a prized cause, died in August 2009 from brain cancer.
The disagreement over health care is noted in Carter's latest book, "White House Diary." According to a "60 Minutes" statement, Carter wrote at the time: "Kennedy continuing his irresponsible and abusive attitude, immediately condemning our health plan. He couldnt get five votes for his plan."
Kennedy and Carter had competing health care reform plans while Carter was president. Kennedy favored a more comprehensive approach that would have insured all Americans against health care costs regardless of age or income. Carter backed a more moderate proposal that would have been phased in over several years.
In his 2009 memoir, "True Compass," Kennedy blamed Carter for dragging his feet on health care and wrote that Carter viewed his health care efforts as a platform to challenge his presidency.
"If that's why he slowed things down, then he made a poor political calculation," Kennedy wrote. "If we had passed comprehensive national health insurance together, it would have been a huge victory for Carter."
When asked in interviews about his biggest regret as a senator, Kennedy often recalled his failure to make a deal to pass President Richard Nixon's sweeping health care proposal in the early 1970s. Kennedy said that at the time he did not think it went far enough.