Jake Tapper and John Parkinson report:
Before leaving this morning for his Christmas vacation in Hawaii, President Obama called this morning’s party-line 60-39 vote in the Senate for Democratic health care reform measures “historic,” adding that he looks forward to working with both chambers of Congress to bring a final bill to his desk next month.
"We are now finally poised to deliver on the promise of real, meaningful health-insurance reform that will bring additional security and stability to the American people,” President Obama said. “This will be the most important piece of social legislation since the Social Security Act passed in the 1930s and the most important reform of our health care system since Medicare passed in the 1960s.”
The president commended Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for their leadership and said, "we now have to take up the last and most important step and reach an agreement on a final reform bill that I can sign into law."
That, of course, is easier said than done, with major differences between the House and Senate bill. One House Democratic leader — Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-NY, who chairs the House Rules Committee — yesterday wrote in an op-ed on CNN.com that "the Senate health care bill is not worthy of the historic vote that the House took a month ago." Upset that the Senate version of the bill doesn't include a government-run public health insurance plan to compete with private insurers and drive costs down, Slaughter said, "It's time that we draw the line on this weak bill and ask the Senate to go back to the drawing board."
Other major differences between the bills include more restrictions on funding for abortion services in the House version than in the Senate, and the Senate's proposed tax on so-called "Cadillac" health insurance plans versus the House's "millionaires' surtax."
Officials say Congress will likely forego the normal "conference committee" wherein House and Senate negotiators work out a compromise bill, and will instead likely be hashed out among Democratic leaders including Pelosi, Reid, and perhaps even the president himself.
“If this legislation becomes law, workers won't have to worry about losing coverage if they lose or change jobs," the president said. "Families will save on their premiums. Businesses that would see their costs rise if we do not act will save money now and they will save money in the future,” Obama said. “This bill will help reduce our deficit by as much as $1.3 trillion in the coming decades, making it the largest deficit-reduction plan in over a decade.”
The president said that while presidents since Teddy Roosevelt had been trying to reform the health care system, "time and time again, such efforts have been blocked by special interest lobbyists who’ve perpetuated a status quo that works better for the insurance industry than it does for the American people."
Of course, even some of the bill's supporters have said the bill will benefit health insurance companies. Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vermont, said "the insurance companies are going to make out like bandits."
Polls indicate the public largely opposes this bill, though they support individual elements of it when asked. The president continue to press his case about the bill, saying the legislation "includes the toughest measures ever taken to hold the insurance industry accountable. Insurance companies will no longer be able to deny you coverage on the basis of a preexisting condition. They will no longer be able to drop your coverage when you get sick. No longer will you have to pay unlimited amounts out of your own pocket for the treatments you need. And you’ll be able to appeal unfair decisions by insurance companies to an independent party."
The president said today’s vote brings the United States closer to making health insurance reform a reality, and called on Congress to finish the job.
“For the sake of our citizens, our economy, and our future, let's make 2010 the year we finally reform health care in the United States of America,” Obama said.
Following the bill's passage, President Obama called Sen. Ted Kennedy's widow, Vicki Reggie Kennedy; several Senate Democrats; and David Turner of Little Rock, Ark. Turner was one of several "insurance company victims" who sat with First Lady Michelle Obama during the president's September address on health care reform to a joint session of Congress.
Arkansas Blue Cross retroactively took away the health insurance coverage paid for by Turner, 43, a sales rep at Computer Hut, saying he hadn't disclosed previous medical conditions.
"They were some conditions either a), I didn't know I had or b) were over a regular person's head to know what they were talking about," Turner told the Arkansas Times. For instance, Turner didn't report a digestive system problem, Arkansas Blue Cross said, referring to a visit he made to a doctor about a hemorrhoid that didn't require treatment.
"I had no fricking idea hemorrhoids were a part of the digestive system," Turner said.
After his remarks, the president said he was "on my way right now to call a few" US troops "and wish them Merry Christmas and to thank them for their extraordinary service."
– Jake Tapper and John Parkinson