Senate approves mammoth health care bill

Chris Rizo Dec. 24, 2009, 8:21am

Harry Reid (D-Nev.)

Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) -- A $871 billion health care overhaul bill passed the U.S. Senate Thursday morning, giving President Barack Obama the cornerstone of his domestic policy agenda.

After months of negotiations and weeks of contentious debate, the bill passed 60 to 39 on a party-line vote, with every member of the Democratic Caucus supporting the bill, while every Republican in the upper chamber opposed it.

Vice President Joe Biden, the former Delaware senator, presided over the rare Christmas Eve session.

The Senate-approved plan will now be merged with the $1 trillion plan approved last month by the U.S. House of Representatives. A final bill, to be hammered out in conference committee, will be sent to Obama for his signature.

The bill, which Democrats hope to pass by New Year, is aimed at covering about 30 million Americans currently without health insurance.

"We may not completely cure this crisis today or tomorrow, but we must strive toward that progress," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., the plan's architect.

If signed, Reid's bill will mark the most significant expansion of medical care since Congress created Medicare in 1965 for the nation's elderly and disabled.

For their part, Republicans said the plan would raise taxes and would do little to cut costs in the nation's health care system. Among other things, GOP members suggested that tort reform be a part of the national health care overhaul.

Democrats, who receive large amounts of campaign cash from trial lawyers, eschewed the idea, despite the director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, Douglas Elmendorf, saying that as much as $54 billion could be saved over the next 10 years if Congress enacts legal reforms including a $250,000 cap on damages for pain and suffering and a $500,000 cap on punitive damages and restricting the statute of limitations on malpractice claims.

"This fight is long from over," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "My colleagues and I will fight to ensure this bill doesn't become law. That's the clear will of the American people."

The 10-year $871 billion measure would expand Medicaid for the poor and create new tax subsidies to help lower- and middle-income families comply with a mandate to purchase insurance.

The bill would also prevent insurance companies from dropping patients who get sick.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the legislation would reduce the budget deficit by $132 billion over the next 10 years.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at

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