Democratic Leaders Declare Victory After First Test Vote

Posted December 21, 2009 at 11:16am

Senate Democratic leaders were jubilant and previously opposed moderates expressed vindication early Monday morning following the Democrats’ victory on a key health care vote that paves the way for final passage of the $871 billion bill by Christmas.Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), his leadership team and rank-and-file Democrats were visibly emotional as they celebrated the party-line defeat of a Republican filibuster of a key amendment to the health care package — signaling that the Conference’s 60-vote coalition would hold through the remaining two procedural votes that require a supermajority.Centrist Democrats who forced major changes to the original bill by threatening to join the GOP blockade were unapologetic, contending their tactics improved the legislation. Both the hard-bargaining moderates and Democratic leaders warned House Democrats not to expect major changes when the two sides convene a conference committee to negotiate their two bills next month.“I just believe the conference report, by and large, has to reflect what we passed in the Senate — if it’s going to get 60 votes,— Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said minutes after the 1 a.m. Monday cloture vote on the manager’s amendment.Additionally, moderate Sens. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) made clear they would not support the conference report if it includes items they negotiated out of the Senate bill as a condition for their support.Senate Republicans, appearing dejected after Democrats beat back their filibuster, left the chamber quickly after the vote, choosing not to stick around amid Democratic celebrating that included a handful of White House officials and Vicki Kennedy, the widow of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.). Kennedy, who was chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions panel, championed health care reform for much of his career and before he died called it “the cause of my life.—The GOP vowed to keep fighting to kill the Democratic bill and reset the debate around better legislation. But even moderate GOP Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine), who supported the Finance Committee’s version of the health care package and had been courted by President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders, sounded resigned to opposing the final Senate bill as well as the forthcoming House-Senate conference report.“I talked to the president [Saturday] and I said that I’ll continue to offer suggestions and modifications and to help to improve the legislation and to play a constructive role in whatever way that I can,— Snowe told reporters. “But they were not able to address many of the issues that I thought were critical. … Unfortunately, the calendar and political deadlines trumped good policy.—Reid and Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) — who together worked to craft the deal that secured Nelon’s support — embraced following the vote. Reid has been working for months to corral enough votes for a package and until this weekend was always at least one vote shy.The Democrats must remain unified through two more cloture votes in order to set up a simple-majority vote on final passage. But Schumer and his Democratic colleagues all but declared victory on health care Monday morning after they shut down a GOP filibuster of Reid’s manager’s amendment to the package.A cloture vote on the substitute amendment is scheduled for 7 a.m. Tuesday, with the third and final cloture vote on the underlying health care bill set for Wednesday afternoon. The vote on final passage should occur on Christmas Eve night.“The die is cast; it’s done,— Schumer said. “It’s a total vindication of Harry Reid’s strategy — which, believe me, he had on track all along.—Schumer said Reid’s strategy was to tack left at the outset to show liberal Senators and the party’s base that he was committed to achieving far-reaching health care reforms. Schumer said Reid then worked his way back to the middle, but only so much as was necessary to garner the support of his Conference’s wavering centrists.“He appealed to every Member to work for the common good — the common good of our caucus, the Senate and our country above all,— Schumer said.The manager’s amendment includes the crucial changes to the bill that allowed the Democrats to move forward as a unified Conference. The amendment included the deals struck with Nelson on abortion and Medicaid, as well as other policies to replace the public insurance option, which was dropped to accommodate Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.).Nelson, who opposes abortion rights, accepted compromise abortion language that does not explicitly prevent federal funds from being used to pay for abortion procedures as a part of the health care package. The Senator also secured a special deal for Nebraska that would ensure the state never has to pay for its portion of the bill’s proposed Medicaid expansion.The moderate Democrat remains under fire from abortion foes and Republicans on Capitol Hill, who have decried the special treatment he secured for Nebraska on Medicaid. But Nelson on Monday morning defended his vote and the compromises he made as a part of his condition for voting with the majority.“I think we’ve created a bill that is far better than it was at the beginning,— Nelson said. “No bill is perfect, but this bill I think deserves to move along. The next step is to see what happens with the conference. I’ve made it clear that if there are any material changes to the understanding that I have, I won’t be supporting it at that point with the cloture at that time.—The conference report is subject to a Senate filibuster.Lieberman delivered a similar warning Monday morning. The Connecticut Independent, who caucuses with the Democrats, took heat over his vow to filibuster a final health care bill if it included either a public insurance option or an expansion of Medicare.Some liberal blogs demanded that Lieberman’s wife be fired from her position with a nonprofit organization, and the Senator himself was subject to attacks. But he said in the wee hours of Monday morning that it was worth it to generate a health care bill that he believes is significantly improved from its original version.“I feel the bill does what the president set out as his goals,— Lieberman said. “I understand it was difficult for a lot of my colleagues, but I think it’s a stronger bill without a new government-run insurance option.—