December 21, 2009

Health Care Overhaul Clears Senate Hurdle

President Barack Obama's health care reform plan passed a major milestone early Monday and seems poised to pass by Christmas, according to AFP.

Shortly after 1:00am this morning, the bill got the exact 60 votes needed to end debate and move on.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in his final speech before the ballot, "What's really killing more and more Americans every day is complications from our health care system."

"Today we are closer than we've ever been to making Sen. Ted Kennedy's dream of universal health insurance coverage a reality," Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said before the vote.

"Vote your hopes, not your fears. Seize the moment," Harkin urged colleagues.

All 58 Democrats and 2 independents voted for the measure, while all 40 Republicans voted against.

Republicans acknowledged for the moment that they lacked the power to kill the proposal, but warned Democrats that they will pay a high price in the mid-term elections in 2010.

In a last ditch effort to find a Democratic defector, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, "It's not too late. All it takes is one. Just one. All it takes is one. One can stop it -- or every one will own it."

According to the Associated Press, the vote represented a major victory for Democrats and Obama.

Extending health coverage to all Americans is a goal that has eluded past White House administrations. Obama's legislation would make health insurance mandatory for everyone, give subsidies to the poor, and require employers to provide insurance with small business tax breaks and penalties for larger ones.

More work will need to be done this week, with senators scheduled to hold two more procedural votes and then a final ballot on Christmas Eve.

Democratic leaders hope that the passage would start negotiations for the Senate and House of Representatives to craft a "compromise version" that they could then deliver to Obama before his State of the Union speech in late January or early February.

Feuds between fellow Democrats were expected over new restrictions on federal subsidies for abortions as well as the Senates decision to take out the government-backed "public option" to compete with private insurers, according to AFP.

However, the watered-down bill was defended by the White House.

David Axelrod, a senior adviser to Obama, told CNN on Sunday, "This is a very, very strong bill. It's going to help give security to people who have insurance today, and it will help people who can't afford insurance, and small businesses who can't afford insurance get insurance."

Axelrod added that the bill would help those with pre-existing conditions and keep them from being denied insurance.

"That is the change the president promised. That's the change we're close to delivering."

According to Democrats, the bill meets Obama's targets of costing less than $900 billion and will not add to the current deficit. AFP reports that findings from the Congressional Budget Office were cited to show that it will cost $871 billion over the next 10 years and will cut the deficit by roughly $132 billion.

Even though the United States is the "world's richest nation," it is the only industrialized democracy that does not give health care coverage to all citizens.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, "Washington spends more than double what Britain, France and Germany do per person on health care -- but it still lags behind other countries in life expectancy and infant mortality."