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Senate healthcare reform vote: 'Now, the real debate can begin'

The Senate voted Saturday to open debate on its healthcare reform bill. But it was just the first of a series of difficult votes facing Democrats going forward.

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“While I voted to proceed to the health care legislation tonight, I have made it clear to the administration and Democratic leadership that my vote for the final bill is by no means guaranteed,” said Sen. Bernard Sanders (I) of Vermont, in a statement after the vote.

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To rally all 60 members of the Democratic caucus for the first key procedural vote on this legislation Saturday was an epic challenge for Reid, who faces his own tough reelection race next year. In addition to disputes over the public option, the majority leader had to work through deep divisions in his caucus over restrictions on abortion, access for undocumented workers, the scope of mandates on individuals and small businesses, and how to rein in the cost of healthcare.

Advocacy groups have already spent a record $170 million on both sides of healthcare debate. Opponents of the Senate bill say they will go after divisions in Democratic ranks.

“[President] Obama and Reid wanted debate, so now they’ll get debate on their cloaked provisions that would cover abortion-on-demand in proposed new government-run and government-subsidized insurance plans,” said Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee in a statement after the vote.

Republicans, who unanimously opposed the bill, are already releasing new ads to target Democrats in conservative districts who voted to move the bill to the floor. “The American people expect us to try to change this monstrosity, and I assure you, we are going to try to change it,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell to reporters on Saturday.

After the vote, Democrats expressed confidence that, despite the opposition, history was on their side.

“Tonight the Senate voted to open one of the most important debates in its history,” said Senate majority whip Richard Durbin, after the vote. “For the first time we will squarely face the healthcare crises American families face every day. We need to bring down costs; give families a fighting chance against insurance companies that deny coverage; and expand the reach of healthcare protection to more Americans. Now, the real debate can begin.”

And for Reid the way ahead only gets more difficult. “The road ahead will be the toughest stretch. But we have momentum and I will keep this process moving forward,” added Reid after the vote.

See also:

Illegal immigrants becoming a flashpoint in healthcare reform

Moderate Democrats under pressure on healthcare bill

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