Senate Democrats introduce $849 billion healthcare reform bill

Majority leader Harry Reid unveiled the Senate's healthcare reform bill Wednesday. Now Reid must cobble together 60 senators to avoid a Republican filibuster.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, speaks to the media about the Democratic health care bill on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, in Washington. Sens. Chris Dodd, Al Franken, and Dick Durbin, listen in the back.

Though the congressional debate and legislative sausage-making are far from over, the Senate took a major step Wednesday in putting forth a $849 billion healthcare reform bill.

The bill, launched by Senate majority leader Harry Reid – and vigorously opposed by Republicans – aims to provide health insurance for 94 percent of all Americans, including 31 million people now uninsured.

The measure reportedly would require most Americans to carry health insurance, require large companies to provide coverage for their employees, and prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage because of preexisting medical conditions.

A senior Democratic leadership aide told the Associated Press that Congressional Budget Office analysis showed the bill would reduce federal deficits by a total of $127 billion over 10 years.

The bill is expected to be paid for by cuts in projected Medicare payments as well as higher payroll tax on families earning more than $250,000 a year.

Senator Reid had previously announced that the bill could include an option for individuals to buy government-sold insurance – a form of “public option” – with states permitted to drop out of the system. That has been a sticking point in House and Senate deliberations, especially for Republicans and some conservative Democrats.

A key subject of debate – in addition to a public option and the impact on the federal deficit – is abortion. The House-passed bill includes the so-called “Stupak amendment” offered by Rep. Bart Stupak (D) of Michigan, which tightens current restrictions on the use of federal funds for abortion services.

Newsweek reports that abortion language in the Reid bill is less restrictive than Stupak. But it could well reappear as House-Senate negotiators try to work out their differences in conference committee.

According to the CBO, the House-passed bill, approved on a near-party line vote of 220-215, would cover 96 percent of all Americans at a cost of about $1.2 trillion.

Reid needs to get 60 Senators on board in order to prevent a Republican filibuster. Earlier Wednesday, he met with three moderate Democrats who have expressed concern about the bill: Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas (who faces reelection next year).

Reuters reports that the debate is expected to begin on Nov. 30, after the Thanksgiving holiday next week, and last for at least three weeks.

The White House has tasked Vice President Joe Biden, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar (both former senators), and former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle with working to see that a Senate bill gets passed.

See also:

Senate Democrats backing down on tough anti-abortion measure


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