From POLITICS DAILY:
With no votes to spare, Democratic senators moved health care reform past its first major hurdle Saturday night, with a party-line, 60-to-39 vote to begin consideration of the 2,000-plus page bill that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid unveiled this week.
The bill that senators will begin debating after Thanksgiving combines proposals passed by the Senate Finance Committee and the Senate Committee Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP), and is designed to make health insurance more accessible and affordable. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill would expand coverage to 94 percent of Americans at a cost of $848 billion over the next 10 years.
Original movie poster
(Shnooks and ninnies, from the top: Chinless Mitch McConnell, Kit So-Not-James Bond, Orrin Down-The Hatch, Richard Who? Burr, Mean Mike Enzi, Chuck Yer-Ass-Is Grassley, Captain Underpants, Limpy Snowe, Diaper David Vitter)
In addition to imposing new regulations on insurance companies, the legislation would create health insurance exchanges, which would function as a marketplace of last resort where Americans could choose between private insurance, non-profit cooperative insurance, and a government-run public insurance option. While Democrats differed in their levels of enthusiasm for the bill, Republicans were unanimous in their opposition, describing Reid’s proposal as everything from a spending binge to a Ponzi scheme.
Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, who voted for the Democrats’ bill in the Senate Finance Committee, voted against debating it Saturday night. She objected to many of the the policies in the version of the bill that emerged from the Majority Leader’s office, including the public option.
Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), the top Republican on the Senate HELP Committee and the only accountant in the Senate, warned of the bill’s potentially catastrophic effect on the federal budget deficit. “Perhaps the best way to qualify this bill is to say it keeps me up nights,” Enzi said, summing it up in one word: “Disaster.”
Other Republicans, such as Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah objected to the bill’s abortion provisions, which are weaker than the House-passed bill, as well as the bill’s estimated cost of nearly $1 trillion to the taxpayers over the next decade. Missouri Republican Sen. Kit Bond said there were so many objectionable elements to the proposal that his colleagues had a hard time choosing which ones to go after first. “We’re like a mosquito in a nudist colony,” he said. “We have so many targets to attack in this bill we don’t know which one to hit.”
Democratic leaders defended their bill, with Reid saying of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), “The facts he is talking about do not exist, except in the minds of people who do not understand this bill.”
In the minutes before the vote, Sen. Max Baucus, a leader for the Democrats in health care reform, said to his fellow senators, “History is knocking on the door. Let’s open it.”
From the Omaha World-Herald:
Senators will begin weeks of debate when they return from Thanksgiving break, but Republicans who stood united against the vote to allow consideration of the bill said Saturday’s vote was anything but procedural.
The Republican leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, cast it as a referendum on the bill itself, which he said would raise taxes, cut Medicare and create a “massive and unsustainable debt.”
The Senate proposal would require most Americans to carry insurance and provide subsidies to those who couldn’t afford it. The insurance industry would come under significant new regulation under the bill, which would first ease and then ban the practice of denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions.
The 10-year bill would reduce the budget deficit through new taxes and cuts to Medicare, according to congressional budget analysts, while extending coverage to 31 million more Americans, ensuring coverage for 94 percent of the eligible population.
At the White House, press secretary Robert Gibbs issued a statement saying the president was gratified by the vote, which “brings us one step closer to ending insurance company abuses, reining in spiraling health care costs, providing stability and security to those with health insurance and extending quality health coverage to those who lack it.”
The drama surrounding a rare Saturday night vote had diminished greatly after the final two holdout Democrats, [Blanche] Lincoln and [Mary] Landrieu, announced hours beforehand that they would vote to allow debate. [Ben] Nelson announced his intentions Friday.
“Oh, this is so tense,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., joked from his seat as senators’ names were called out during the vote.
George Voinovich of Ohio was not present for the vote. The Senate’s other 39 Republicans, including Mike Johanns of Nebraska and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, all voted to block consideration of the bill.
[Tom] Harkin [of Iowa], chairman of the Senate Health Committee, has been one of the leading advocates for the health care legislation.
In a rallying cry before the vote, he said that conservative lawmakers once bitterly opposed the creation of now-popular programs such as Social Security and Medicare. At the time, he said, they tried to scare people about those programs, and today’s Republicans have resorted to similar tactics.
“Now is not the time to go wobbly in the knees, I say to my friends in the Democratic caucus. Now is the time to stand strong. Now is the time to … move this country forward, say yes to the American people and no to these fears and unfounded allegations,” Harkin said.
After Harkin, it was Grassley’s turn. He noted that former President Bill Clinton had told Senate Democrats the worst thing they could do on health care would be nothing. But Grassley said the bill is far worse than nothing.
He said it would raise private health insurance premiums, cut Medicare to the point of threatening access to care and threaten the economic recovery.
“Its a half a trillion dollars in new taxes, hurting small business and destroying job creation,” Grassley said on the Senate floor. “It calls for an even bigger and more unsustainable federal budget.
“It adds to that burden with a massive new government-run health plan. It makes health care more unaffordable and lower quality.”