Vote Clears Way for Senate Health Care Bill Debate

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On Saturday, November 21, the U.S. Senate voted 60 - 39, along party lines, to open debate on the Senate health care reform bill, "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said debate would begin on the bill on Monday, November 30.

Following the vote, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement: "The president is gratified that the Senate has acted to begin consideration of health insurance reform legislation. Tonight's historic vote brings us one step closer to ending insurance company abuses, reining in spiraling health care costs, providing stability and security to those with health insurance, and extending quality health coverage to those who lack it. The president looks forward to a thorough and productive debate."

While the White House has stated a goal of passing health insurance reform by Christmas, an intense debate is expected in the Senate. Republicans who oppose the bill argue that it will cost too much and further expand the reach of government, as reported by the New York Times. In addition, some Senate Democrats have said that their votes in support of beginning debate on the legislation do not guarantee that they would ultimately vote for the bill.

In an e-mail sent just hours before Saturday's vote, the Main Street Alliance urged small businesses to support the Senate bill. "The Senate bill is certainly not perfect," wrote Sam Blair, MSA's network director. "But the Senate bill does include important steps forward -- it will stop insurance companies from denying coverage, it moves in the right direction on affordability, and it does include the choice of a public health insurance option to increase competition and keep the insurance companies honest (although it gives states the option to opt out)."

Late last week, however, the National Retail Federation publicly expressed disappointment in the Senate health care reform bill. "The bill will not deliver the lower-cost and better-quality health care and insurance coverage that retailers have called for," said Neil Trautwein, NRF vice president and employee benefits policy counsel. "In fact, it will increase costs and threaten retail jobs. The Senate should go back to the drawing board."

To pass health care reform, the New York Times reported, it is likely that Sen. Reid will have to continue working both to retain Democratic support and to sway one or more Republicans to vote in favor of the bill. This may require major changes in the bill, as many senators up for re-election in conservative-leaning districts will be closely monitoring polls when weighing their vote. News reports preceding the Senate vote noted that the legislation contained a provision potentially worth more than $100 million in additional federal aid for Louisiana, home state of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D), who has not yet said she would support the final legislation.

A recent poll by Rasmussen Reports indicates that public support for current health care reform proposals in Congress have fallen to new lows, with 56 percent of voters now opposing the proposed reforms. (Rasmussen did stress that it is not clear yet whether this is a growing trend or merely "statistical noise.") Overall, Rasmussen found that 46 percent favor the creation of a government-sponsored nonprofit health insurance option, which people could choose instead of a private health insurance plan. --David Grogan