Senate Democrats Score Major Victory
Updated: 9:39 p.m.Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) scored a major victory Saturday night by persuading all 60 members of the Democratic Conference to vote to bring his $848 billion health care reform bill up for debate.In the 60-39 vote, all Democrats and two Democratic-leaning Independents voted to oppose an attempted filibuster that was supported by all Republicans. Three-fifths of the Senate was needed to kill a filibuster, or invoke cloture, on the motion to proceed to the measure. Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) did not vote.Most Democrats kept their enthusiasm muted, given the uncertainty about whether the bill will be able to secure a filibuster-proof vote for final passage. Reid told reporters afterward that this is just the beginning of a long slog toward passage.“We can see the finish line, but we’re not there,— Reid said. “The road is a long stretch. … We have the momentum to keep this process moving, I have no doubt about that.—He added that he is mindful that not all Democrats agree on the underlying substance of the bill. “We’ve got some things to work out, but we’re going to get a bill,— he said.Following the vote, several dozen supporters of Reid’s health care bill lined the sidewalk outside the Senate’s Carriage House door, where the bulk of the lawmakers exited the building. Members of the crowd cheered the Democrats as they left the vote, thanking them for beginning debate.“Thank you so much— one man wearing a white lab coat and scrubs said to Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.).The drama drained out of the vote early in the day on Saturday when wavering centrist Democrats — Sens. Mary Landrieu (La.) and Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) — came to the floor in the afternoon to announce they would support the effort to start debate on the bill. Another vacillating Democrat, Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.), announced Friday that he would vote to proceed to the bill. Reid received much of the credit for persuading the three to support the debate in the face of substantial political pressures in their home states to oppose it. However, in announcing their support to start the debate, Landrieu, Lincoln and Nelson warned they cannot necessarily be counted on to support the Reid bill as it stands. All three oppose the measure’s creation of a public insurance option that states may opt out of, among other issues, and have indicated they may block future progress on the bill if the public option is not removed. Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) has also threatened to filibuster the measure if the public option is not removed.“I am also aware that there will be additional procedural votes to move this process forward that will require 60 votes prior to the conclusion of the floor debate,— Lincoln said in her floor statement. “I’ve already alerted the leader, and I’m promising my colleagues that I’m prepared to vote against moving to the next stage of consideration as long as a government-run public option is included.—Moderate Democrats and Independents emerged from the vote voicing the same concerns they had going in.Nelson, one of the last Democrats to agree to begin debate, warned that anything short of major revisions “won’t be enough to get 60 votes— to end the debate.Lieberman repeated his filibuster threat as well, calling the offending language a last-minute provision designed to appease liberals. The public option is “an 11th-hour addition to a debate that has gone on for decades,— he said.Reid indicated Saturday night that a compromise might need to be found, saying Landrieu plans to work with Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) on a “public option that’s acceptable to all Democrats.—Before the vote, Senators took to the floor with each party speaking in alternate hourlong blocks to argue for their position, with Republicans contending the measure amounted to a budget-busting government takeover of health care and Democrats saying it represented the best way to bring down rising health care and insurance costs across the country.Chief Deputy Minority Whip Richard Burr (R-N.C.), argued the bill will cost significantly more than Democrats have let on, comparing it to a practice used by consumers to purchase goods over time.“This is Harry Reid’s layaway plan for this holiday season,— Burr told reporters.Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) also claimed the bill will have a negative effect on rural hospitals and clinics, complaining that Reid and others behind the legislation have not taken small communities into account.“Who are these people talking to? They aren’t talking to the administrators or the doctors or the nurses or the community leaders who are leading the drive— to keep these providers afloat, he said.“If they did, they’d get an earful,— Johanns added.But Democrats noted that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated the savings from the bill will outweigh the costs of the bill by $130 billion over 10 years, with nearly $650 billion in savings over the following decade. Democratic Senators also called on their colleagues to seize what many see as an historic moment to pass health care reform after decades of inaction and rising costs, which both parties agree are squeezing consumers and employers alike.“A major reason to vote in favor of allowing the Senate to debate health care reform are the serious and worsening signs that for those Americans who have health insurance, our health care system is no longer working as it should. Increasingly, Americans with health insurance are at catastrophic financial risk if they get sick,— Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said on the floor. “Increasingly, businesses large and small that offer health insurance to their employees are buckling under the crushing weight of spiraling costs for their employees. … Democrats are not alone in pointing out these problems. The Republican leader himself has said, Every Republican in Congress supports reform.’— John Stanton contributed to this report.