This may have been a predictable victory for Democrats, but final health care legislation still has a long way to go. Baucus, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee Chairman Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., will now start writing the real bill with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. In closed-door negotiations, the Democratic leaders will try to meld Baucus' centrist bill with a more liberal one that passed the HELP committee in July. That bill included a public health insurance option.
In the House, Democratic leaders have hinted they want to wait to see what the Senate does before putting their own final bill on the table. Members of the House are working to merge the four different bills that have been put forth into one legislation.
Even after today's vote, the same obstacles remain. Democrats have to iron out the differences between themselves, namely on how to pay for health care overhaul and whether to include some form of a public option. There's still no consensus among Democrats on either issue. Some, like Baucus, say a bill with a public option will not pass on the Senate floor. House Democratic leaders insist that the final bill must include this provision.
As for the rest of the Republicans, they will continue to hammer at the bill for cuts to future Medicare spending that, Democrats say, will pay for reform.
President Obama praised Snowe and the Senate Finance Committee for their work on health care.
"In particular, Senator Snowe has been extraordinarily diligent in working together so that we can reduce costs of health care, make sure that people who don't have it are covered, to make sure that people who do have insurance have more security and stability and therefore over the long term we're saving families, businesses and our government money," the president told reporters earlier in the day.
Snowe has been involved in bipartisan negotiations with fellow lawmakers and White House officials since the inception of health care discussions. Her yes vote will make her the only Republican to support any of the Democratic health reform bills before Congress.
The ranking Republican on the committee, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, praised Baucus for his work on health care legislation but panned the bill for imposing new taxes and fees, and Democrats for "rebuffing" and "defeating" Republican efforts to be included in discussions.
"I hope we don't have the possibility of further leftward movement," Grassley said. "This bill is moving on a slippery slope to more and more government control of health care."
The bill was expected to pass even though some Democrats had expressed reservations about it. One of them was Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., whose attempts to introduce a public option in the bill were struck down, even by some in his own party, including Baucus. But today, Rockefeller said he voted for the bill because "the time has come," adding that he still thinks a public option is necessary.
"The bill before us still falls short of what people need and what people expect from us," Rockefeller said. "It is not enough. Universal coverage has always been the goal of health reform. ... Leaving 16 million uninsured is wrong."
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., had also said he was concerned that the bill doesn't provide affordable coverage and choice to all Americans.