Washington Months ago, a delegation of Republican senators went to the White House with a request for President Barack Obama to take a more gradual approach to health care.
He demurred, according to one official familiar with the meeting, saying that’s not what he promised when he ran for the White House.
Now, with multiple trade-offs made, Obama and his Democratic allies stand one final compromise shy of the sweeping success he envisioned.
In an epic struggle settled at dawn, the Democratic-controlled Senate passed health care legislation Thursday, a triumph for Obama that clears the way for compromise talks with the House on a bill to reduce the ranks of the uninsured and rein in the insurance industry.
The vote was 60-39, strictly along party lines, one day after Democrats succeeded in crushing a filibuster by Republicans eager — yet unable — to inflict a year-end political defeat on the White House.
At the White House, Obama called the vote historic, and said because of it, “we are incredibly close to making health insurance reform a reality in this country. Our challenge now is to finish the job.”
Democrats, led by Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, said they would, by early in the new year. Even before they held a celebratory news conference, Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement pledging, “We will soon produce a final bill that is founded on the core principles of health insurance reform: affordability for the middle class, security for our seniors, responsibility to our children by reducing the deficit, and accountability for the insurance industry.”
The House passed its bill in November, and officials said it was likely to be February before the two sides can sort out their differences over issues as diverse as government’s role in a remade health care system, coverage for abortion and federal subsidies for lower- and middle-income families who would be required to purchase insurance.
Senate Republicans attacked the bill to the end, and citing public opinion polls, said they would use it as an issue in the 2010 congressional elections. “This debate was supposed to produce a bill that reformed health care in America. Instead, we’re left with party-line votes in the middle of the night, a couple of sweetheart deals to get it over the finish line, and a public that’s outraged,” said the Republican leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.