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Senate Democrats get votes needed for health care debate

Saturday, November 21, 2009

November 21, 2009 8:20 p.m. EST
Washington (CNN) -- The Senate voted 60-39 Saturday night to proceed with a floor debate on Majority Leader Harry Reid's $849 billion health care bill.
The vote to prevent a Republican filibuster against starting debate broke down along strict party lines. All 58 Senate Democrats -- along with independent Sens. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont -- supported bringing the measure to the floor. Almost all of the 40 Senate Republicans opposed the motion.
A minimum of 60 votes is required to break a filibuster in the 100-member body.
Earlier Saturday, U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln said she supported bringing the health care bill to the floor for debate. Speaking on the Senate floor hours before the 8 p.m. procedural vote, the Arkansas Democrat said she would give Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Obama the crucial vote required to move the Democrats' contentious health care measure forward for debate.
"Although I don't agree with everything in this bill, I believe it is important to begin this debate," Lincoln said. She added that she still opposes the public option.
"This issue is very complex. There is no easy fix," she added.
Reid says the 2,074-page bill would expand health insurance coverage to 31 million more Americans. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated the cost of the plan at $849 billion over 10 years, though Republicans argue it's much more.
A House bill was passed nearly two weeks ago.
Also Saturday, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana, became the 59th lawmaker to side with Reid, who needed the support of all 58 Senate Democrats and independent Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut to avoid a GOP filibuster.
All 40 Republicans are expected to oppose having a debate.
"At this time of economic crisis, we need to make things easier for people struggling out there, not harder," argued Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
"And make no mistake, the Democrat plan we'll vote on tonight would make life harder for the vast majority of Americans. It raises their taxes. It raises their health care premiums. It cuts their Medicare and drives millions off of the private insurance they currently have," McConnell said.
Amber Wilkerson Marchand, spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, issued a statement before Lincoln even stopped talking.
"Blanche Lincoln's vote tonight is unequivocally a vote in favor of President Obama's $2.5 trillion government-run health care plan. Obviously the pressure from the left wing of her party finally got to Blanche Lincoln.
"She not only reversed her previous statements that a government-run plan was too costly, but she completely ignored the increasing unemployment rate in her state and the growing national deficit when she announced that she will cast the 60th vote in favor of President Obama's costly health care plan tonight," Marchand said.
"There's no doubt that this vote will be a critical issue for Senator Lincoln as she embarks on her uphill re-election bid, and the people of Arkansas will have an opportunity to hold her accountable when they cast their ballots next November."

Read the health care bill (PDF)

Lincoln said her commitment had nothing to do with her re-election bid.
In announcing her decision, Landrieu added a caveat: "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 of how I might vote as this debate comes to an end.
"It is a vote to move forward to continue the good and essential and important and imperative work that is under way."
"Spirited debate and good-faith negotiations in this Senate have produced a bill that contains some amazing and cutting-edge reforms," Landrieu added.
Landrieu had said she was concerned about the bill's costs to small businesses and individuals, and was opposed to a public health insurance option "that will undermine the private insurance market."
Sen. Ben Nelson, a Democratic moderate from Nebraska, was a holdout until Friday, when he said he would vote to start debate.
"Throughout my Senate career, I have consistently rejected efforts to obstruct," he said. "That's what the vote on the motion to proceed is all about."
"If you don't like a bill, why block your own opportunity to amend it?"
Nelson, who met with Reid on Thursday, said they did not discuss the specifics regarding abortion language, the antitrust exemption for the insurance industry and other issues of concern to him.
After the Saturday night vote, senators won't reconvene until after Thanksgiving. Then there will be several weeks of amendments being introduced, impassioned debates on the Senate floor and news conferences.
If the Senate manages to pass a bill, a congressional conference committee would need to merge the House and Senate proposals into a consensus version requiring final approval from each chamber before moving to Obama's desk to be signed into law.


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