Senate Moves Healthcare Reform Forward in Historic Vote

Senate votes to send healthcare reform legislation to the floor; language of the ultimate bill still unknown.  In a rare Saturday evening roll call, the Senate recently voted 60 – 39 along straight party lines to open debate  on wide-ranging healthcare reform legislation.  The procedural vote – in which Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) won backing from his entire 60-member caucus – moves the healthcare reform debate from committee into the full Senate.  Even with an important victory under his belt, Reid still faces a fight from conservative Blue Dog Democrats – not to mention Republicans.

Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) told ABC’s “This Week” that he voted to cut off a Republican filibuster because it opens the way to revising the legislation as it currently is written.  “If I thought the bill couldn’t be amended and couldn’t be improved, I wouldn’t vote to move it forward and move the debate,” Nelson said.  “Debate can begin.  We ought not to stop the opportunity to improve the bill.”

Conversely, Senator Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) told “Meet the Press” that Saturday’s vote was a victory for President Barack Obama and Senator Reid.  “We have a lot of different opinions on our side of the caucus and we came together last night.”  New York Democrat Charles Schumer agreed, saying the bill can win the necessary supermajority to fend off a filibuster because the Senate’s public opinion is adequately centrist.  “There is no intent to compete unfairly with private insurance.  This is a modest public option,” he said, noting that it has the same requirements as private insurance coverage.

Conservative Republicans, on the other hand, want to write entirely new legislation with significant GOP input.  Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) said the current bill will be an expensive “disaster for our country” that would increase the deficit and force some Americans to lose healthcare coverage.

Whatever shape the ultimate Senate legislation takes, it will have to undergo reconciliation with the more liberal House of Representatives’ bill passed in early November.  Although Saturday’s procedural motion required a 60-vote majority, passage of the final healthcare reform bill will require just 51 votes.

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