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Senate Casts First Health Care Vote

Hazel Trice Edney | 12/21/2009, 12:28 p.m.

The U.S. Senate has finally taken a procedural vote toward passage of a health care bill with a final vote expected this week, just in time for Christmas as President Barack Obama had hoped.

A 60-40 vote taken early Monday morning, Dec. 21, was a cloture vote, a procedure that prevented Republicans from filibustering, the act of prolonging or stalling the final vote. The vote €" with all 60 being Democrats - all but guarantees a passage of the bill considered by President Obama to be €landmark reform that will finally reduce the cost of health care.€

He said in his weekly radio address on Friday, €When it becomes law, families will save on their premiums. Small businesses and Americans who don€t get any insurance today through their employers will no longer be forced to pay punishingly high rates to get coverage.€

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other Senate leaders credited for the initial vote, said that the bill expands coverage to more than 94 percent of Americans under 65 years of age, including over 31 million uninsured.

But the bill, called the €Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act€, is not all that Black legislators wanted for their constituents who suffer most from health care costs and no benefits, often due to low pay, lack of jobs and higher illness rates. Early in the House of Representatives debate, Black lawmakers had vowed to block any bill that did not have a public option. A public option would not only provide free or low priced quality health care for those not able to pay, but would force private insurers to lower their prices because of the public competition.The House version that passed narrowly last month has a public option that was applauded by the Congressional Black Caucus, as well as other color Caucuses that had united for that cause, but the Senate version does not.

In January, leaders in the two houses of Congress will begin the grueling process of trying to mesh the two bills €" requiring compromise and attempts to salvage the best of both bills before taking a final vote.

By NNPA deadline, CBC Chair Barbara Lee had not released a statement on the Senate version voted on Monday morning. But following the passage of the House bill last month, she vowed to fight until the end for the public option.

€When others were pronouncing health reform dying €" and the public option dead and buried €"we kept on fighting,€ Lee said after the House passage. €And we will keep fighting until a final health care bill is on the president€s desk that includes not only a strong public option, but provisions to achieve health equity, eliminate health disparities and to limit the rate of increase for those with private plans.€

However, given the political stakes for Democrats, it is not likely that either Senate or House Democrats will allow the bill to fail completely no matter what the cost. Also, future amendments can be made to the bill.

Democrats began celebrating immediately after the vote around 1 a.m. Monday morning.

€Tonight the Senate took another major step on the road to finally delivering health insurance reform to the American people,€ Democratic Party Chairman Tim Kaine said in a statement emailed around 1:35 a.m.

€If it, or health reform legislation passed by the House of Representatives were to become law, would represent the most significant piece of social and economic legislation since Social Security, and would be the largest expansion of health care coverage since Medicare passed in 1965.€
Kaine and Senate Democratic leaders boast that the bill would:

€ Extend coverage to more than 30 million Americans;
€ End abusive insurance industry practices, like denying coverage because of a pre-existing condition or canceling someone€s coverage when they get sick;
€ Strengthen Medicare and extend the life of the Medicare trust fund;
€ Help small businesses provide their employees affordable insurance;
€ And reduce the national deficit by 132 billion in the first 10 years, and hundreds of billions more in the years after that.

Under the persistent leadership of the now late Sen. Ted Kennedy, seven presidents unsuccessfully tried to reform the nation€s health care system. His widow, Victoria, has lobbied hard for the passage. Obama€s ability to establish the political traction to do what seven presidents could not, will undoubtedly cause him to regain significant political traction after slipping in national polls.

€Thanks to Democratic senators who worked hard to find common ground and the extraordinary leadership and vision of President Obama, the fundamental change that has eluded this country for decades, is finally within reach,€ Kaine stated.

Republicans are livid. At almost the same time as Kaine€s statement, Republican National Committee Chairman emailed a release saying, €A top down bureaucratic government-run health care system that will cost nearly a trillion dollars is not what the American people want. If the liberals in Congress don€t understand this by now €" they will when the voters give them a pink slip in 2010.€

Actually, the Senate legislation will cost about $871 billion, compared to the House€s $1 trillion version, a higher cost largely due to the public option.
Once the final vote comes on Thursday, Dec. 24, Christmas Eve, the January reconciliation of the two bills will likely be as acrimonious as the debates leading to passage. But, in the long-run, Obama concludes the common ground in the bills will be well worth his signature.

€Both the House and Senate bills would make it against the law for insurance companies to deny you coverage on the basis of a pre-existing condition or illness. Both would stop insurers from charging exorbitant premiums on the basis of age, health, or gender. Both would prevent insurance companies from dropping your coverage when you get sick. And both would put a limit on how much you have to pay out of pocket for the treatments you need in a year or lifetime,€ Obama said.

€Simply put, the protections currently included in both the health insurance reform bill passed by the House and the version currently on the Senate floor would represent the toughest measures we€ve ever taken to hold the insurance industry accountable. Anyone who says otherwise simply hasn€t read the bills."

He added, €Let€s deliver on the promise of health insurance reforms that will make our people healthier, our economy stronger, and our future more secure. And as this difficult year comes to a close, let€s show the American people that we are equal to the task of meeting our great challenges.€