Health bill on track for pre-Christmas

Majority Leader Harry Reid, shown in his office Sunday, later retorted when asked about Republican criticism.

Associated Press

Majority Leader Harry Reid, shown in his office Sunday, later retorted when asked about Republican criticism.

WASHINGTON — Well on the way to winning passage before Christmas after clearing its biggest hurdle in the wee hours Monday, the Senate's health care bill will make a "tremendous difference for families, for seniors, for businesses and for the country as a whole," President Barack Obama said.

Senate Democratic leaders basked in the victory for the landmark legislation that will insure 30 million more Americans. They looked ahead to the next make-or-break vote this morning. They snapped up a coveted endorsement from the American Medical Association and batted down Republican complaints about special deals lawmakers got in the bill.

"I don't know if there's a senator that doesn't have something in this bill that was important to them, and if they don't have something in it important to them, then it doesn't speak well of them," retorted Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., when questioned at a news conference about the GOP criticism.

Democrats prevailed 60-40 over Republican opposition early Monday morning, voting to block a threatened GOP filibuster of a last-minute package of Democratic amendments.

The deals in the massive bill range from $100 million to pay the full cost of a Medicaid expansion in Nebraska, home to Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson, the crucial 60th vote, to exempting roughly 800,000 seniors in Florida from potential benefit cuts by private Medicare Advantage plans, something sought by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.

The American Medical Association got some special deals itself before declaring its support. A 5 percent tax on elective cosmetic surgery procedures was replaced with a 10 percent tax on indoor tanning services; a proposed fee on physicians to enroll in Medicare was dropped; and payment cuts to specialty and other physicians to pay for bonuses to primary care doctors in underserved areas were also eliminated, the AMA's president-elect, Dr. Cecil B. Wilson, said.

"America has the best health care in the world — if you can get it," Wilson said at a news conference with Reid and other leaders. "For far too many people access to care is out of reach because they lack insurance. This is not acceptable to physicians."

Republicans, however, ramped up their criticism, denouncing the last-minute concessions that put the bill over the top.

"I am tired of the Congress thumbing their nose and flipping a bird to the American people," Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele said in a conference call with reporters.

Reid promptly criticized Steele for saying "something so obscene" and "so crass and such a terrible example for the youth."

More criticism came from the activist watchdog Freedom Watch, which said it was filing a federal court complaint against the Obama administration to force disclosure of details about meetings on health care between White House officials and industry lobbyists and executives.

Votes set for 30 hour increments

Democrats will have to put up 60 votes again at about 7:20 this morning for a procedural vote on the 2,074-page bill. A last 60-vote hurdle awaits Wednesday, and final passage of the legislation — requiring a simple majority — is set for late Thursday, Christmas Eve, if Republicans take all the available time. As of Monday they said they would. Under Senate rules, each of those votes must be separated by 30 hours. In order to get lawmakers and their staffs out by Christmas Eve, the first of the three was set for just after 1 a.m. Monday. The Senate measure would still have to be harmonized with the health care bill passed by the House in November — hurdles include abortion and the public option — before final legislation would go to President Obama.

Health bill on track for pre-Christmas 12/21/09 [Last modified: Monday, December 21, 2009 10:48pm]

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