Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., today defended the provisions, which include more than a billion dollars in special Medicaid funding for Nebraska, Massachusetts and Vermont and Louisiana; special help for a Montana town dealing with asbestos problems; and an exemption from a new tax for specific non-profit insurance companies in Nebraska and Michigan.
"That's what legislation is all about," Reid said. "It's the art of compromise."
Reid guessed that all 100 U.S. senators have something that's important to them in the health care bill. If they don't, he said, they must not be very good senators.
"If they don't have something important to them, it doesn't speak very well for them," Reid told reporters.
Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., was asked more specifically about Connecticut's gift; an opaquely worded authorization for $100 million to help expand a hospital with specific criteria.
Dodd has admitted he put the provision in the bill to benefit a hospital affiliated with University of Connecticut. But Dodd said today the money will be awarded competitively by the Secretary of Health and Human Services among the more than dozen hospitals nationwide that could qualify.
"This is competitive," he said. "It's not just about my state."
Despite allegations of a corrupt political process, Reid predicted that the Democrats' health care bill in both the Senate and House will become more popular as they are reconciled before being presented to the president.
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.
But one of the biggest weaknesses of the bill, McCain said, is that tax increases and cuts in Medicare and other funding would kick in as soon as the bill is passed but the benefits won't begin to accrue until four years later.
"That's nutty stuff ... it's unacceptable," he said.
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.
An agreement on the compromise to bring Sen. Ben Nelson, the final Democratic holdout, onboard with the legislation, was announced Saturday morning. But today's vote signaled that all Democrats will support the bill.
Nelson secured a special break for his state's contributions on Medicaid funding, protected some Nebraska insurers from a new tax in the bill and got Democratic leaders to agree on slightly tougher restrictions on how abortions could be offered in insurance plans under the bill.
McCain criticized Democrats for providing concessions to a few Democrats, such as Nelson, saying it would cost people in other states.
"This was behind closed doors," McCain said. "The Republicans were never brought in to the negotiations and this is what you get -- a split country -- where the American people are opposed to what we're doing and opposed to us."