"Unfortunately, the lack of support from the administration made keeping the public option in the bill an uphill struggle," Feingold said in a written statement.
Feingold supported the bill, however, as did every other Democrat, even though he disliked elements of it.
"While the loss of the public option is a bitter pill to swallow, on balance, the bill still delivers meaningful reform, and the cost of inaction is simply too high," Feingold said.
The proposal would cost $871 billion over the next 10 years to give access for 31 million Americans who don't currently have health insurance. It counts on lower Medicare costs, taxes on the insurance industry and medical device makes as well as a special tax on high-cost insurance plans, to pay for the legislation.
Every person would be required by the government to have insurance or pay a fine. People making up to $88,000 for a family of four would get help from the government to pay for insurance. Medicaid would be greatly expanded for the poor.
Republican senators, seeking to delay the vote and turn public opinion even further against it, launched a rhetorical attack on Nelson, the conservative Democrat who withheld his support for a health reform compromise until the last moment.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky called provisions inserted to woo Nelson's vote a "kind of smelly proposition."
"This is supposed to be all of our health care ... not just for them," he said at a Capitol Hill press conference.
It was not just Nelson's home state of Nebraska that won concessions in closed-door negotiations, but because Nebraska's carve-out is permanent, the conservative Democrat is catching the most fire from Republicans.
Vermont and Massachusetts will also benefit from special treatment in how the federal government subsidizes state Medicaid programs, although supporters argue that those two states were being penalized because they already help provide insurance for nearly all of their citizens.
Republicans vowed to delay a final vote until Christmas Eve, even though the vote this morning effectively broke their filibuster of health reform legislation.
Why is the GOP fighting it when the passage looks clear for Democrats?
"Because they [Senate Democrats] haven't got the American public," McCain said. "They had 60 percent of the United States Senate, 60 percent of the American people are against this. They want it stopped and they certainly -- as they find out more about this unsavory process we've been through, the Cornhusker Kickback, the Louisiana Purchase, the Florida FlimFlam and all of the other kinds of dealing that went on -- they'll find it very distasteful."
Other goodies were tougher to trace. The bill authorizes $100 million for hospital construction for a medical school opaquely described as "an academic health center at a public research university in the United States that contains a State's sole public academic medical and dental school."
Eleven hospitals would potentially qualify for some of the money, according to Democratic staffers. But the Secretary of Health and Human Services would be in charge of doling the funding out.
On the Senate floor, Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina said the Democrats had to "cook up a deal in a back room that is sleazy in my view."