The Senate today is poised to take the first of what will eventually be scores of votes on a 10-year, $848 billion health overhaul package that has divided Democrats and Republicans, as well as rank-and-file Americans.
Senate prepares for crucial vote to advance reform bill
The vote, expected around 8 pm ET, essentially allows Democrats to overcome a block that Republicans have in place and would move the bill to the debate and amendment phase.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who earlier this week delivered the 2,079-page bill after melding two packages approved by separate Senate committees, said this first vote is crucial to fixing the fractured U.S. healthcare system.
“Americans deserve a debate on healthcare reform,” he said.
On Friday, the leader inched closer to getting just that.
One centrist Democrat, Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, ended suspense over how he would vote by saying he would support moving the bill forward. And Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) hinted that she would do the same, though as of Friday afternoon she remained non-committal.
Landrieu said that she had been leaning against voting against the bill, but moved to “neutral” Thursday night after meeting with Reid.
“There are some excellent things about this bill, and then there are still some concerns,” she said. “I'm not sure it goes far enough to help small business in America get the kind of coverage they need by more competition as soon as I would like.”
The bill aims to greatly restructure the health insurance sector, creating a national public health plan and cooperatives to help cover 94% of legal U.S. citizens. Individuals, families and businesses will have the option to buy coverage in a newly created marketplace called an “exchange.”
Additionally, the bill includes a number of delivery system reforms, which taken together will change how hospitals, physicians and a host of other providers practice and get paid.
Landrieu's and Nelson's votes are essential for Democrats, who need all 60 members of their caucus to overcome an effort to block the bill.
Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) has remained coy over how she would vote.
Landrieu also highlighted other concerns she has, including lengthy timelines before insurance reforms kick in, lack of tax-equity provisions for the self-employed and others.
Still, she said there's much to like about the bill. “The underlying bill that Harry Reid has put on the table for us to look at—the melded bill—I think is the best version I've seen overall,” she said.
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