Main | Saturday, December 19, 2009

Dems Say They Have The 60 Votes On Senate Health Care Bill

Working overnight in the blizzard, today Senate Democrats announced that they have the necessary 60 votes to approve the health care reform bill. The news came this morning after Sen. Bill Nelson (D-NE) agreed to vote for cloture.
“Change is never easy, but change is what’s necessary in America,” Mr. Nelson said at a morning news conference. “And that’s why I intend to vote,” he said, “for health care reform.” Mr. Obama, appearing on television from the White House, said: “Today is a major step forward for the American people. After nearly a century-long struggle, we are on the cusp of making health care reform a reality in the United States of America.” The blinding snow outside the Capitol added to what had already been a chaotic few weeks for the Senate, which has met every day since Nov. 30 and prepared to work through its third consecutive weekend.

The sergeant-at-arms had four-wheel drive vehicles at the ready to bring lawmakers in for votes. And while senators wore the jackets and ties required on the Senate floor, dress shoes gave way to boots. Mr. Nelson committed his vote after winning tighter restrictions on insurance coverage for abortions, as well as increased federal health care aid for his state. With Senate leaders increasingly confident that they would pass the bill, Mr. Nelson pointedly warned that he would oppose the final version if negotiations with the House, which approved its bill last month, result in changes that he does not like.
No Republicans are supporting the bill, so unless a Democrat retreats, it will be approved by a filibuster-proof 60-40. Last month the House approved its own version of the bill, but progressive members there may resist the changes made by the Senate, including the dropping of the public option.
In place of the public option, the Senate bill would create at least two new national health insurance plans modeled after those offered to federal workers, including members of Congress, and overseen by a federal agency, the Office of Personnel Management. At least one of those new plans would have to operate on a nonprofit basis. The bill includes a new government-run long-term care insurance program. And it imposes tight new regulations on the health insurance industry, barring insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing medical conditions and limiting how much extra they can charge people based on their age.
Republicans are expected to force a complete reading of the hundreds of pages-long bill into the Senate record, a possibly days-long delaying tactic meant to give wobbly Democrats time to change their mind before the final vote.

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