Senate Democrats and the independents who vote with them have united behind a pending vote that will move the most sweeping package of healthcare reforms since Medicare to the debate and amendment phase of the legislative cycle.
With final votes locked up, Senate reform bill set to advance
Senate leaders in the past 48 hours corralled the remaining three Democrat holdouts as the clock continues to tick down to the first of what will eventually be dozens of votes on a 10-year, $848 billion health overhaul package. The rare Saturday vote is expected around 8 p.m. ET.
Only hours apart, Sens. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) committed to vote on what's called a “motion to proceed,” a critical first step that advances the bill to a point where it can be changed on the Senate floor.
On Friday, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), one of a handful of centrist Democrats to not publicly state how they would vote, said he would not break ranks with his party on the vote.
With all three onboard, Democrats have now reached the 60-vote threshold needed to overcome a Republican-led effort to block the bill.
“I am not with those who seek to avoid the debate, nor with those who use political attacks to achieve their narrow goals,” Lincoln said during a speech on the Senate floor. “I will vote to support … to proceed to this bill.”
Lincoln, who is in a tough re-election fight in conservative Arkansas, effectively was the final piece Democrats needed to keep the bill alive. Even so, she reiterated her opposition to a national public health plan, a version of which is included in the bill, and kept the option to buck the party on votes down the line.
Landrieu, speaking on the Senate floor earlier in the day, said she would vote in favor of moving a reform bill to the debate and amendment stage, but did so with an eye toward changing the legislation as it winds its way through the lengthy process.
“My vote today to move forward on this important debate should in no way be construed by the supporters of this current framework as an indication on how I might vote as this debate comes to an end,” she said, adding, “there are enough significant reforms and safeguards in this bill to move forward, but much more work needs to be done.”
No Republican members are expected to vote in favor of the bill.
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.
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.
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