Senate okays health care measure

Landmark Bills will extend insurance to more than 30 million Americans

Senate okays health care measure

President Barack Obama leaves the podium in the State dining room of the White House in Washington on Thursday after the Senate passed the health care reform Bill. AP

The 60-39 vote on a cold winter morning capped months of arduous negotiations and 24 days of floor debate. It also followed a succession of failures by past congresses to get to this point. Vice President Joe Biden presided as 58 Democrats and two independents voted “yes.” Republicans unanimously voted “no.”

The tally far exceeded the simple majority required for passage.

The Senate’s Bill must still be merged with legislation passed by the House before Obama could sign a final bill in the new year. There are significant differences between the two measures but Democrats say they have come too far now to fail.

Both bills would extend health insurance to more than 30 million more Americans.
Vicki Kennedy, widow of late Massachusetts Sen Edward Kennedy, who made health reform his life’s work, watched the vote from the gallery. So did Rep John Dingell, D-Mich, the longest-serving House member and a champion of universal health care his entire career.

“This morning isn’t the end of the process, it’s merely the beginning. We’ll continue to build on this success to improve our health system even more,” Majority leader Harry Reid, D-Nev, said before the vote. “But that process cannot begin unless we start today... there may not be a next time.”

At a news conference a few moments later, Reid said the vote “brings us one step closer to making Ted Kennedy’s dream a reality.”

The Nevadan said “every step of this long process has been an enormous undertaking.”
Sen Max Baucus, D-Mont, chairman of the Finance Committee, said he was “very happy to see people getting health care they could not get.”

It was the Senate’s first Christmas Eve vote since 1895, when the matter at hand was a military affairs bill concerning employment of former Confederate officers, according to the Senate Historical Office.

The House passed its own measure in November. The White House and Congress have now come further toward the goal of a comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s health care system than any of their predecessors.

The legislation would ban the insurance industry from denying benefits or charging higher premiums on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions.

The Congressional Budget Office predicts the bill will reduce deficits by $130 billion over the next 10 years, an estimate that assumes lawmakers carry through on hundreds of billions of dollars in planned cuts to insurance companies and doctors, hospitals and others who treat medicare patients.

Republicans were withering in their criticism of what they deemed a budget-busting government takeover. If the measure were worthwhile, contended Minority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, “they wouldn’t be rushing it through Congress on Christmas Eve.”
House Minority leader John Boehner assailed the bill moments after passage.

“Not even Ebenezer Scrooge himself could devise a scheme as cruel and greedy as Democrats’ government takeover of health care,” the Ohio Republican said in a statement.

Negotiations between the House and Senate to reconcile differences between the two bills are expected to begin as soon as next week.

The House bill has stricter limits on abortion than the Senate, and unlike the House, the Senate measure omits a government-run insurance option, which liberals favoured to apply pressure on private insurers but Democratic moderates opposed as an
unwarranted federal intrusion.

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