Senate health care vote: 'defining' moment or 'abomination'?
Seldom, if ever, in US history has the partisan divide on such a big legislative step been so stark. The 60-to-39 Senate health care vote along party lines may make it far more difficult for the Senate to work on issues that lie ahead.
Senate Democrats passed sweeping healthcare reform legislation early Christmas Eve day, putting the United States on the brink of the largest expansion in medical coverage since the creation of Medicare and Medicaid.Skip to next paragraph
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The 60-to-39 vote split along strict party lines, with 58 Democrats and two Independents voting for the bill, and all Republicans unanimously voting against it.
Both parties described the vote as historic, although for different reasons. To the victorious Democrats, it was a signal moment, the sort of thing that had brought many to Washington in the first place.
"Today I cast one of the defining votes of my Senate career," said Sen. Tom Harkin (D) of Iowa, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
To Republicans, the vote portends a disastrous increase in government intervention in the private market that the nation will live to regret.
"This legislation is an abomination in process and substance," said Sen. Richard Shelby (R) of Alabama.
Seldom, if ever, in US history has the partisan split on such an important legislative step been so stark. The divide, plus lingering bitterness from a polarized and brutal debate over the issue, could make it far more difficult for the Senate to engage in the nation's business in months and years ahead.
What happens next
The Senate vote marks the beginning of the end for the long march of healthcare reform through the US legislative system. The Senate bill must now be merged with the House version of healthcare reform, approved in November. Substantial differences between the two approaches remain, particularly in regard to antiabortion language, methods of financing, and a governmnt-run public option insurance plan.
A conference committee of members from both chambers will struggle over this harmonization. In its own way, that task could be almost as difficult as the Senate debate, as lawmakers struggle to keep intact the language passed on their side of Capitol Hill.
The Senate bill, like its House counterpart, would prevent the insurance industry from denying benefits to people with pre-existing health conditions. It provides subsidies to help low- and middle-income residents purchase that insurance. And it establishes state marketplaces, called "exchanges," whereby individuals without employer-provided insurance, and some small businessess, could buy coverage.