The U.S. Senate passed the $871 billion overhaul of America's health care system after 24 consecutive days of often-bitter debate and deep partisanship, but even as senators and President Obama hailed this as a historic vote, they will face major obstacles when they return to their desks in January.
Republicans today vowed to continue fighting the health care bill, which passed in the Senate early this morning on a 60-39 party-line vote, and Democratic leaders will have to resolve the differences between the House and Senate bills.
"This fight isn't over. My colleagues and I will work to stop this bill from becoming law," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. said before the vote today.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, agreed, and said health care should not have become such a partisan issue.
"Frankly, this is just step one," Hatch said in an interview today with MSNBC. "It's not passed yet, and it's got a long way to go."
Before leaving for his vacation in Hawaii, Obama praised the Senate bill despite the fact that not a single Republican voted in favor of it. Obama had repeatedly pushed for bipartisanship and held several private meetings with Republican lawmakers to discuss health care.
"This will be the most important piece of social legislation since the Social Security Act passed in the 1930's and the most important reform of our health care system since Medicare passed in the 1960's," the president said.
He called health-care legislation the "largest deficit-reduction plan in over a decade," and said he looks forward to working with both chambers of Congress "over the coming weeks" to bring a final bill to his desk. The president is likely to face rising criticism from the GOP in January; Republicans say they want to see more action on the economy and jobs front.
All 58 Democrats and two independents voted for the health care bill, as expected, without any Republican support. Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky, who is retiring at the end of his term, was the lone Republican who did not vote.
In a celebratory press conference, jubilant Democratic leaders invoked the memory of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, whose wife Vicki watched the vote from the Senate gallery.
"This is a victory for the American people," Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said. "This morning's vote brings us one step closer to making Ted Kennedy's dream a reality."
Others hailed the historic nature of the health care vote.
"This is probably the most important vote that every sitting member of the Senate will cast in their tenure here," Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., told reporters.
The Senate's health care vote today marks the first roll call on Christmas Eve in more than a century, Congressional Quarterly reported, citing the Senate historian. The last such vote came in 1895 to overturn a law that banned former Confederate Army officers from employment in the U.S. Army.
After this morning's vote there were cautious congratulations from medical groups. The president of the American Medical Association, which officially endorsed the bill, dubbed today's Senate action a "historic vote" but warned that there is much more work ahead.