Washington Democrats pushed sweeping health care legislation to the brink of Senate passage Wednesday, crushing a year-end Republican filibuster against President Barack Obama’s call to remake the nation’s health care system.
The 60-39 vote marked the third time in as many days Democrats have posted a supermajority needed to advance the legislation. Final passage, set for about dawn today, was a certainty, and will clear the way for talks with the House on a final compromise. Those negotiations likely will stretch into February.
The Senate has met for 24 consecutive days to debate the legislation, the second-longest such stretch in history, and Democrats held a celebratory press conference.
“We stand on the doorstep of history,” said Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who painstakingly pieced together the bill — and the now-controversial deals with wavering lawmakers that made its passage possible.
The measure would extend coverage to an estimated 31 million who lack it, while banning the insurance industry from denying benefits or charging higher premiums on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions. The Congressional Budget Office predicts the bill will reduce deficits by $130 billion over the next 10 years, an estimate that assumes lawmakers carry through on hundreds of billions of dollars in planned cuts to insurance companies and doctors, hospitals and others who treat Medicare patients.
Obama has also said he wants legislation that slows the rate of growth in medical spending nationwide, but the CBO said it has not determined whether that is the case with the bill.
Unlike the House, the Senate measure omits a government-run insurance option, which liberals favored to apply pressure on private insurers but Democratic moderates opposed as an unwarranted federal intrusion into the health care system.
In an interview with PBS, Obama signaled he will sign a bill even if it lacks the provision.
“Would I like one of those options to be the public option? Yes. Do I think that it makes sense, as some have argued, that, without the public option, we dump all these other extraordinary reforms and we say to the 30 million people who don’t have coverage, ‘You know, sorry. We didn’t get exactly what we wanted?’ I don’t think that makes sense.”
Outnumbered Senate Republicans stubbornly played out a losing hand. They launched several last-minute attacks that Democrats swatted aside, then rejected calls to move the final vote up a day in deference to a snowstorm that threatened to prevent lawmakers from reaching home on Christmas Eve.
“Tomorrow the Senate will vote on a bill that makes a bad situation worse,” said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. “This bill slid rapidly down the slippery slope to more and more government control of health care.”