Ted Kaufman - United States Senator for Delaware

Senate OKs historic health bill

Source: Delaware State News

By David Espo

December 25, 2009

WASHINGTON — In an epic struggle settled at dawn, the Democratic-controlled Senate passed health care legislation Thursday, a triumph for President Barack 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 fi libuster by Republicans eager — yet unable — to inflict a year-end political defeat on the White House.

Delaware’s two senators, Thomas R. Carper and Edward E. “Ted” KAUFMAN, both Democrats, voted “yes” on the bill.

“The American people have waited too long for affordable and accessible health care, and (Thursday) in the Senate we did not let them down,” Sen. Carper said. “ This health care reform bill will provide unprec­edented security and stability for Ameri­cans who have insurance and provide affordable options for those who do not. Our Senate bill will lower costs for Ameri­can families, businesses and the government, and protect Americans from unfair practices that deny them care when they get sick.”

“Today’s vote was his­toric,” Sen. KAUFMAN said.

“I’ve been around this institution for nearly four decades, and this is as sig­nifi cant as any legislation I’ve seen in that time. We took a critical and monu­mental step towards ensuring the long-term well-being of our nation and citizens. I have said since the beginning that we could not afford inac­tion. Our dire situation de­manded bold leadership, and today I am proud to be part of the answer.”

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 fi nish 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 defi cit, and accountability for the insurance industry.’’

The House passed its bill in November, and offi cials 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 Republican 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.

The Senate vote unfolded as the sun rose over the Capitol on the day before Christmas, and marked the culmination of a battle that lasted months and included failed bipartisan negotiations, a last-minute flurry of Democratic dealmaking to lock in 60 votes and a highly partisan debate that held lawmakers in session a near-record 25 consecutive days.

For the third time since Sunday night, Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, 92, was wheeled into the Senate so he could cast his vote. Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., did not vote.

For Democrats there was an air of bit­tersweet celebration, underscored by the presence of Vicki Kennedy in the visitor’s gallery that overlooks the Senate floor. Her husband, the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, died in August after a ca­reer spent working relentlessly for universal health care.

“With Sen. Ted Kennedy’s booming voice in our ears, with his passion in our hearts, we say, as he said: The work goes on, the cause endures,’’ said Reid, echoing words Kennedy uttered in his most famous speech.

Beginning in 2014, the Senate bill would establish insurance exchanges where con­sumers could shop for private coverage sold under federal guidelines. Most Ameri­cans would be required to purchase insur­ance or face penalties, and hundreds of bil­lions of dollars in federal subsidies would be available to families up to incomes of about $88,000 a year. Insurance companies would be banned from denying benefits or charging higher fees on the basis of pre­existing medical conditions. That provision would take effect in 2013 in the House ver­sion.

The Congressional Budget Office esti­mates the Senate measure would extend coverage to about 31 million Americans who lack it, while cutting federal deficits by $130 billion over a decade and possi­bly much more in the following 10 years. Premiums would rise for some, but fall for many others, particularly when the effects of federal subsidies are factored in, the agency says.

Literally hundreds of issues remain to be settled in the two bills, a House mea­sure that ran to 1,990 pages and a Senate version of 2,074, not counting 383 pages of revisions that Reid unveiled over the week­end.

To fi nance extended coverage, the House bill relies on an income tax surcharge on in­comes over $500,000 for individuals and $1 million for couples, a provision the Senate omitted. Its bill includes higher Medicare payroll taxes on high wage-earners and a new tax on high-cost insurance policies that labor unions generally oppose.

Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for the poor, is expanded in both bills, but the House provision includes many more people. The House legislation also requires large employers to provide insurance to their workers or pay a fine. There is no such mandate in the Senate bill, although companies would face penalties if any of their uninsured employees quali­fi ed for federal subsidies to purchase their own insurance.

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