Kennedy famously called health care reform "the cause of my life." He set the tone for the current health care debate in Congress and worked to pass a number of monumental health care-related bills while in the Senate.
"In his honor and as a tribute to his commitment to his ideals, let us stop the shouting and name calling and have a civilized debate on health care reform which I hope, when legislation has been signed into law, will bear his name for his commitment to insuring the health of every American," Byrd said in his statement.
Byrd, along with many others in Congress, shared his grief publicly last year upon learning the news that Kennedy was suffering from terminal brain cancer.
Below is Byrd's full statement today:
"I had hoped and prayed that this day would never come. My heart and soul weeps at the lost of my best friend in the Senate, my beloved friend, Ted Kennedy.
Senator Kennedy and I both witnessed too many wars in our lives, and believed too strongly in the Constitution of the United States to allow us to go blindly into war. That is why we stood side by side in the Senate against the war in Iraq.
Neither years of age nor years of political combat, nor his illness, diminished the idealism and energy of this talented, imaginative, and intelligent man. And that is the kind of Senator Ted Kennedy was. Throughout his career, Senator Kennedy believed in a simple premise: that our society's greatness lies in its ability and willingness to provide for its less fortunate members. Whether striving to increase the minimum wage, ensuring that all children have medical insurance, or securing better access to higher education, Senator Kennedy always showed that he cares deeply for those whose needs exceed their political clout. Unbowed by personal setbacks or by the terrible sorrows that have fallen upon his family, his spirit continued to soar, and he continued to work as hard as ever to make his dreams a reality.
In his honor and as a tribute to his commitment to his ideals, let us stop the shouting and name calling and have a civilized debate on health care reform which I hope, when legislation has been signed into law, will bear his name for his commitment to insuring the health of every American.
God bless his wife Vicki, his family, and the institution that he served so ably, which will never be the same without his voice of eloquence and reason. And God bless you Ted. I love you and will miss you terribly.
In my autobiography I wrote that during a visit to West Virginia in 1968 to help dedicate the 'Robert F. Kennedy Youth Center' in Morgantown, Senator Kennedy's voice quivered with emotion as he talked of his late brothers and their love for West Virginia. 'These hills, these people, and this state have had a very special meaning for my family. Our lives have been tightly intertwined with yours.'
I am sure the people of the great state of West Virginia join me in expressing our heartfelt condolences to the Kennedy family at this moment of deep sorrow."
Read more on the life and death of Sen. Edward "Ted" Kennedy:
Obituary: Sen. Edward M. Kennedy Dies at 77
Arrangements for Kennedy Funeral Announced
Quotes: Tributes to Kennedy
Kennedy Memoir Set for Release Next Month
Flags to Fly at Half-Staff for Kennedy
Mass. Gov Supports Quick Replacement for Kennedy
In His Own Words
Life in the Public's Glare
Brothers "Would Have been Proud"
In Pictures: The Kennedys
Washington Unplugged: Bob Schieffer and Tom Oliphant Remember Kennedy
CBS News Special Tonight at 8 p.m. ET: "The Last Brother"
CBSNews.com Special Report: Ted Kennedy