NewsChannel 9 Breaks Down Health Care Reform Bill

POSTED: Thursday, December 24, 2009 - 10:17am

UPDATED: Wednesday, February 17, 2010 - 2:25pm

WASHINGTON (AP) -Senate Democrats passed a landmark health care
bill in a climactic Christmas Eve vote that could define President
Barack Obama's legacy and usher in near-universal medical coverage
for the first time in the country's history.

"We are now finally poised to deliver on the promise of real,
meaningful health insurance reform that will bring additional
security and stability to the American people," Obama said shortly
after the Senate acted.

"This will be the most important piece of social legislation
since Social Security passed in the 1930s," said Obama, standing
with Vice President Joe Biden in the State Room of the White House.

The 60-39 vote on a cold winter morning capped months of arduous
negotiations and 24 days of floor debate. It also followed a
succession of failures by past congresses to get to this point.
Biden presided as 58 Democrats and two independents voted "yes."
Republicans unanimously voted "no."

An exhausted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.,
initially cast a "no" vote by mistake, then quickly corrected
himself as fellow senators burst out laughing.

The tally far exceeded the simple majority required for passage.
The Senate's bill must still be merged with legislation passed
by the House before Obama could sign a final bill in the new year.
There are significant differences between the two measures but
Democrats say they've come too far now to fail.

Both bills would extend health insurance to more than 30 million
more Americans. Obama said the legislation "includes the toughest
measures ever taken to hold the insurance industry accountable."

Vicki Kennedy, the widow of the late Massachusetts Sen. Edward
Kennedy, who made health reform his life's work, watched the vote
from the gallery. So did Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., the
longest-serving House member and a champion of universal health
care his entire career.

"This morning isn't the end of the process, it's merely the
beginning. We'll continue to build on this success to improve our
health system even more," Reid said before the vote. "But that
process cannot begin unless we start today ... there may not be a
next time."

At a news conference a few moments later, Reid said the vote
"brings us one step closer to making Ted Kennedy's dream a

The Nevadan said that "every step of this long process has been
an enormous undertaking."

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Finance Committee,
said he "very happy to see people getting health care they could
not get."

It was the Senate's first Christmas Eve vote since 1895, when
the matter at hand was a military affairs bill concerning
employment of former Confederate officers, according to the Senate
Historical Office.

The House passed its own measure in November. The White House
and Congress have now come further toward the goal of a
comprehensive overhaul of the nation's health care system than any
of their predecessors.

The legislation would ban the insurance industry from denying
benefits or charging higher premiums on the basis of pre-existing
medical conditions. The Congressional Budget Office predicts the
bill will reduce deficits by $130 billion over the next 10 years,
an estimate that assumes lawmakers carry through on hundreds of
billions of dollars in planned cuts to insurance companies and
doctors, hospitals and others who treat Medicare patients.

For the first time, the government would require nearly every
American to carry insurance, and subsidies would be provided to
help low-income people to do so. Employers would be induced to
cover their employees through a combination of tax credits and
penalties. The legislation costs nearly $1 trillion over 10 years
and is paid for by a combination of taxes, fees and cuts to

Republicans were withering in their criticism of what they
deemed a budget-busting government takeover. If the measure were
worthwhile, contended Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.,
"they wouldn't be rushing it through Congress on Christmas Eve."

House Minority Leader John Boehner assailed the bill moments
after passage.

"Not even Ebenezer Scrooge himself could devise a scheme as
cruel and greedy as Democrats' government takeover of health
care," the Ohio Republican said in a statement.

"Senator Reid's health care bill increases premiums for
families and small businesses, raises taxes during a recession,
cuts seniors' Medicare benefits, adds to our skyrocketing debt, and
puts bureaucrats in charge of decisions that should be made by
patients and doctors," he said.

The occasion was moving for many who'd followed Kennedy, who
died in August.

"He's having a merry Christmas in Heaven," Sen. Paul Kirk,
D-Mass., appointed to fill Kennedy's seat, told reporters after the

Kirk said he was "humbled to be here with the honor of casting
essentially his vote."

Said Dingell: "This is for me, this is for my dad, this is for
the country."

Reid nailed the last votes down in a rush of dealmaking in the
last week that is now coming under attack because of special
provisions obtained by a number of senators. In Nebraska, home to
conservative Democrat Ben Nelson, the Democrats' crucial 60th vote,
the federal government will pay 100 percent of the cost of a
planned Medicaid expansion in perpetuity, the only state getting
that deal.

Negotiations between the House and Senate to reconcile
differences between the two bills are expected to begin as soon as
next week. The House bill has stricter limits on abortion than the
Senate, and unlike the House, the Senate measure omits a
government-run insurance option, which liberals favored to apply
pressure on private insurers but Democratic moderates opposed as an
unwarranted federal intrusion. Obama has signaled he will sign a
bill even if it lacks that provision.

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