In a party line vote of 60-39, the Senate voted Saturday evening to proceed with debate on a health care reform bill. All 58 Democrats and both Independents voted in favor of the motion while every Republican voted against it.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid closed debate and urged Republicans to support debate of the bill, arguing that the framers of the Constitution didn’t intend for the rules to limit a healthy debate.
At a news conference immediately following the vote, Reid said, “The road ahead is a long stretch but we can see the finish line. When this debate begins on the floor, the differences will be clear to the American people. Our plan saves lives, saves money and saves Medicare.”
Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Connecticut), told reporters that “everyone should have the right to quality health care” and that this bill will “move us down the path to health care for all Americans.”
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), said “we are rounding third and heading [toward] home” and added that he couldn’t think of a better vote to have less than a week before Thanksgiving.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), a staunch supporter of a public option, said the vote was one of the most important things he has ever done in his life. He also expressed disappointment that not a single Republican wanted to debate the issue.
“Tonight, the Senate took a historic step forward toward reform that will improve medical care and lower costs for American families and businesses,” Brown said in a statement. “When it comes to health care, the cost of inaction is too high. This bill will cut our nation’s deficit by $130 billion in the first ten years and will preserve Medicare. It will help keep the insurance industry honest and drive down premiums by injecting competition through a strong public option.”
In a statement following the vote, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said President Obama “is gratified that the Senate has acted to begin consideration of health insurance reform legislation.”
“Tonight’s historic vote brings us one step closer to ending insurance company abuses, reining in spiraling health care costs, providing stability and security to those with health insurance, and extending quality health coverage to those who lack it,” Gibbs said. “The president looks forward to a thorough and productive debate.”
Earlier in the day, Arkansas Democrat Blanche Lincoln announced that while she was going to vote in favor of moving the debate forward, she would not vote to end debate if a public option, such as the one currently in the bill, was still there.
Earlier this month, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut), issued the same threat.
For the bill to continue to move to a final vote, Democrats will need to gain the support of Lincoln, Lieberman and a few other conservative Democrats who still oppose the current version of the public option in the bill.
Reid, in response to a question from a reporter after the vote, said that Senators Chuck Schumer, Thomas Carper and Mary Landrieu are working together to come up with a public option acceptable to the Blue Dogs and the rest of the caucus.
In a floor statement prior to the vote, Landrieu said she was “concerned that the current version of the public option included in this bill could shift significant risks to taxpayers over time unnecessarily, and I will continue to work with my colleagues to find a better and bipartisan solution for this issue.
“I have suggested that a freestanding, premium-supported, competitive community option that would trigger on a date certain, if our private market reforms fail to work, might be a possible compromise. That would include language that Senator [Olympia] Snowe and other of my colleagues have been working on for several months.”
During debate earlier in the day, Republicans conceded that they do not have the support to pass an amendment similar to the Stupak amendment passed by the House earlier this month restricting funding for abortion. The amendment in the House bill is under attack from progressive groups and will likely be removed in conference.
The Senate will begin debate of the measure when it returns from the Thanksgiving recess.