In the first Christmas Eve session since 1963, the United States Senate today passed a historic overhaul of the nation’s health care system. The final vote was guaranteed days ago as key Democrats cast procedural votes in favor of passage. Today’s 60-39 vote in favor of extending health insurance to 30 million Americans currently without health insurance was the culmination of over 70 years worth of work trying to achieve (near) universal insurance coverage dating back to FDR and the New Deal.
Democrats passed the measure without a single Republican vote, including Olympia Snowe (R-ME), who voted for the bill in committee. Snowe had previously said that she would not vote for the bill if it included a public option – which of course was stripped at the demands of Joe Lieberman. Despite this, Snowe didn’t keep her word. She instead complained that Democrats were rushing the bill. Apparently spending the better part of a year crafting the legislation, debating it and voting on it is not enough time.
When Congress returns from its Christmas recess, the House will have to decide on whether they will accept the language (highly unlikely) or send the process to a conference committee to reconcile the House and Senate bills. The two bills have substantially different language. The House version includes a public option, pays for low to middle income subsidies to purchase insurance with tax increases on the top 1% of income earners and has more restrictive language on abortion. The House version also costs less and reduces the deficit more in the long run. The Senate version does not include a public option, pays for subsidies by taxing “Cadillac” insurance plans and ultimately will cost more than the House version. Both versions ban insurance companies from discriminating against people based on a pre-existing condition.
While I certainly have a good deal of concern over the effectiveness of the Senate version, I am a believer that extending coverage to 30 million people is a significant step that our country should not pass up. The House needs to fight to include a public option in order to keep costs down for consumers. It is one of the more popular elements of this whole reform effort. Moving away from a for-profit health care system should have been one of the main goals all along. I thought it was, but apparently some members of the Senate (i.e. Joe Lieberman) have other interests in mind. At any rate, this is the best Christmas gift that someone without health insurance could possibly wish for. A majority in the Senate and the Democratic Party put the interest of the people ahead of petty politics. Merry Christmas everyone!