WASHINGTON, Dec. 21, 2009— -- President Obama hailed Senate Democrats' advancing the $871 billion health care bill as a "big victory for American people," even as the legislation lost many of the components he had pushed.
The president took aim at critics who say the health care bill would add to the budget deficit and praised the Senate for standing up to special interest groups.
"I just want to be clear, for all those who are continually carping about how this is somehow a big-spending government bill, this cuts our deficit by $132 billion the first 10 years and by over $1 trillion in the second," the president said today at the White House. "The argument that opponents are making against this bill does not hold water."
But the Congressional Budget Office Sunday revised the original numbers, now estimating that the deficit reduction under the bill could actually be half of the more than $1 trillion forecast for 2020 to 2029.
This is the second time Obama has spoken in support of the Senate health care bill, which is on the road to a final vote on Christmas Eve.
In recent days, the Obama administration has tried to push the point that while the bill may not have everything it and some other Democrats had wanted, it would still have positive ramifications for Americans.
Obama hailed the legislation Saturday as "the largest deficit reduction plan in over a decade," and praised Senate Democratic leaders for making changes that he said would make the health care bill stronger.
Vice President Joe Biden wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times Sunday that "While it is not perfect, the bill pending in the Senate today is not just good enough -- it is very good.
"I share the frustration of other progressives that the Senate bill does not include a public option. But I've been around a long time, and I know that in Washington big changes never emerge in perfect form," Biden wrote.
Moderate and liberal Democrats unified behind a health care overhaul bill in the Senate in the wee hours of the morning today after negotiating behind closed doors in a process that Sen. John McCain assailed as "one of the great Bernie Madoff gimmicks."
In a narrow vote in the wee hours of the morning, Democrats broke a Republican filibuster and inched their sweeping health care package toward passage before Christmas.
Democratic leaders today hailed the support of medical associations. The American Medical Association endorsed the Senate health care bill, with Dr. Cecil B. Wilson, the association's president, appearing with Democratic senators at a news conference.
While it expressed support for the plan, the AMA would like to see measures to repeal the Medicare payment formula for doctors to prevent periodic reimbursement cuts.
All 60 members of the Democratic caucus -- liberals who wanted a public option voted for a bill without one, and moderates concerned about the cost -- voted to limit debate on compromise language introduced Saturday morning. The 40 Republicans opposed and assailed Democrats for crafting back-room deals that benefit a few senators.
"It's one of the great Bernie Madoff gimmicks that I've ever seen, that anybody's ever seen," McCain, R-Ariz., charged on "Good Morning America" today, adding that this was an "unsavory practice that the American people will reject resoundingly."
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.