“I think that the House will come together on this bill,” Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the longest serving member of the House, said.
Since 1957, Dingell has introduced a healthcare reform bill in Congress.
“It's a major stride forward to meet a large, unmet need,” he said, referring to the Senate's passage of the bill. The House passed its version last month. “It is, in summary, a major incremental advance.”
The serious moment wasn't without levity. In what is likely to be the biggest vote lawmakers will take in their careers, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), one of the architects of the legislation, actually voted against the bill before quickly changing it to a yes.
Later, he would quip that it was to “show some bipartisanship.”
In a more solemn moment, Sen. Robert Byrd, the 92-year-old Democrat from West Virginia whose frail health has concerned many, voted from his wheelchair with a message for one of the chamber's missing members.
“Mr. President, this is for my friend Ted Kennedy,” Byrd said, waiving his finger in the air as he loudly proclaimed, “aye.”
It wouldn't be the last time the late senator's name was invoked.
Many lawmakers lauded Kennedy, who died earlier this year before the committee he chaired was able to pass a bill.
Vicki Kennedy, the senator's widow who was in the gallery for the final vote, called the tribute a touching moment.
“That was such a beautiful thing,” she said. “I have to admit, that was when my little spigots opened up and I got teary-eyed.”
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