Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) announced Sunday evening he will support Senate Majority Leader Harry Reids (D-Nev.) $871 billion health care reform package but warned that he could withhold his backing for the final bill as negotiated in the House-Senate conference committee if he is unhappy with any changes made to the legislation.
Webb in recent days remained officially noncommittal on his support for the bill, leading Senate Republicans to think he might join them in filibustering Reids bill. However, Democratic sources familiar with the whip count believed all along that Webb would vote with the majority. In a statement, Webb said:
I have decided to vote in favor of moving forward on health care reform legislation. I do so despite my disappointment with some sections of the bill, which I will continue to address in the future. But the final package presented by the majority leader reflects many improvements that take into consideration the concerns that I and others brought forward during the debate.
Most importantly, the status quo of our present system, which is damaging our national economy at many levels, is unacceptable. The spiraling costs for health care have become economically unsustainable at every level, from corporate America to our small businesses to individual policy holders. In addition, the billions of dollars spent on medical care for the uninsured is a burden borne not only by government at all levels, but also by tens of millions of others through higher taxes and insurance rates.
Over the past year, the process of debating this issue often overwhelmed the substance of fixing the problem. The Obama Administration declared health care reform to be a major domestic objective, but they did not offer the Congress a bill. Nor did they propose a specific set of objectives from which legislation could be derived. Consequently, legislation was developed independently through five different Congressional committees, three in the House and two in the Senate. This resulted in a large amount of contradictory information and a great deal of confusion among our public.
As the debate moved forward in the Senate, I and my staff worked through thousands of pages of legislation, and did our best to shape the bill as well as to bring proper focus to key areas. I repeatedly took a number of difficult votes, often breaking with my party, in order to strengthen the bill.
The managers package negotiated in the past several days addresses a number of the most troubling concerns. The new language demands greater accountability from health insurers. It reins in excessive overhead costs that go strictly to administration instead of patient care. It immediately makes available a health care tax credit for small businesses. It forces competition through a multi-state, government-administered insurance option. It immediately bans pre-existing condition exclusions for children. It incorporates a measure that I sponsored to reward quality, instead of quantity, of Medicare services offered to patients.
Significantly, the independent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) now estimates that the reforms contained in this legislation will lower the federal budget deficit by $133 billion over the next ten years, and by more than $1 trillion over the decade following.
Assuming the bill is passed by the Senate, I will examine closely the conference report produced at the next stage of the legislative process. Significant deviations from the core principles I insisted on this compromise must remain, or I will withhold my support.
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