Senate Health Reform Bill Passes First Key Floor Test
News outlets paid close attention to the evening Senate cloture vote and the events leading up to it.
The Associated Press "Invoking the name of Edward M. Kennedy, Democrats united Saturday night to push historic health care legislation past a key Senate hurdle over the opposition of Republicans eager to inflict a punishing defeat on President Barack Obama. There was not a vote to spare. The 60-39 vote cleared the way for a bruising, full-scale debate beginning after Thanksgiving on the legislation, which is designed to extend coverage to roughly 31 million who lack it, crack down on insurance company practices that deny or dilute benefits and curtail the growth of spending on medical care nationally."
"The spectator galleries were full for the unusual Saturday night showdown, and applause broke out briefly when the vote was announced. In a measure of the significance of the moment, senators sat quietly in their seats, standing only when they were called upon to vote. Republican Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio missed the vote" (Espo, 11/21).
Roll Call: "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) scored a major victory Saturday night by persuading all 60 members of the Democratic Conference ... three-fifths of the Senate was needed to kill a filibuster, or invoke cloture, on the motion to proceed to the measure" (Pierce, 11/21)"
Politico is reporting that "one key provision for a government-run insurance plan that would allow states to opt-out of coverage effectively died in the Senate chamber Saturday, as the last two Democratic holdouts demanded changes to the bill. 'I am opposed to a new government administered public health care plan as a part of comprehensive health care reform, and I will not vote in favor of the proposal that has been introduced by Leader Reid as it is written,' said Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), the last Democrat to sign on for opening debate. Two hours earlier, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) had said much the same thing. Their comments signal that weeks of negotiations remain on a bill Obama once hoped to have on his desk by Christmas but that even Senate Democrats now say has little chance of getting there until into the new year, perhaps by mid-January. (Budoff Brown, 11/21).
Wall Street Journal: "Sen. Lincoln, who faces a tough reelection battle next year, said it is 'important that we begin this debate' and not 'simply drop the issue and walk away.' She added a bit later: 'I'm not afraid of that debate.' Her comments came few hours after Sen. Mary Landrieu (D., La.) said she would vote to move forward with debate, and a day after Sen. Ben Nelson (D., Neb.) said he, too, would vote to move forward. The three senators had all been undecided for weeks, casting doubt on the vote planned for Saturday on whether to proceed. Earlier Saturday, Sen. Landrieu said she was ready to join in support of debate, giving Mr. Reid much-needed momentum. "I've decided that there are enough significant reforms and safeguards in this bill to move forward, but much more work needs to be done," Sen. Landrieu said. (Hitt and Adamy, 11/21).
CNN reports that Lincoln said: "This issue is very complex. There is no easy fix." CNN added: "Reid says the 2,074-page bill would expand health insurance coverage to 31 million more Americans. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated the cost of the plan at $849 billion over 10 years, though Republicans argue it's much more. A House bill was passed nearly two weeks ago" (Barrett, Bash and Glass, 11/21).
Politico in a separate story: "With Democrats scrambling for every vote tonight, Sen. Paul Kirk (D-Mass.), praised the late Sen. Ted Kennedy for his 'foresight' in helping engineer a change in Massachusetts state law that allowed him to serve until a special election is held in January. 'If they come out at 60-40, I would say that Sen. Kennedy's foresight, and understanding of the importance of this vote with the background of 40 years of fighting for this legislation will have been proven true and important,' Kirk told POLITICO" (Raju, 11/21).
The Hill: "Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Saturday conceded the odds of successful passage of healthcare reform appears to favor Democrats, but promised Republicans will keep trying to block it. Speaking at an afternoon press conference four hours before an 8 p.m. procedural vote that would bring the bill to the Senate floor, McConnell said Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) appears to have the necessary 60 votes for the procedural motion - and that, based on Senate history, eventual passage is likely. 'Well over 95 percent of the time, I'm told, when we approve a motion to proceed to a bill, the bill is ultimately approved,' McConnell said. 'Most of the time, when we proceed on the bill, the bill eventually passes.' The Republican leader quickly denied his observation was an admission of defeat, promising stiff opposition up until the final vote in the near future" (Rushing, 11/21).
The New York Times: "In the polarized Senate, even popular bills and generally acceptable executive branch nominees that eventually win easy approval first have to crawl though time-consuming procedural thickets. Now it is hard to see how Congress will make up for the lost time. While the Senate hopes to devote most of December to a landmark debate on health care, time is running out on a number of other difficult and significant issues that must be resolved by the end of the year. What follows the Thanksgiving recess may be a headlong rush into a legislative train wreck. Among the obstacles on the track is raising the national debt limit, always a wrenching vote for lawmakers trying to avoid looking like out-of-control spenders" (Hulse, 11/21).
This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.