US Senate set to pass sweeping health care bill by Christmas

Last Updated: Sunday, December 20, 2009 - 19:15

Washington: After months of tough
negotiations, Senate Democrats have come together to back a
sweeping health care legislation, providing a powerful boost
for President Barack Obama`s top domestic policy goal that
promises to extend medical coverage to 31 million Americans.

The breakthrough came after Senate Majority Leader Harry
Reid and his lieutenants engineered a delicately crafted
compromise to prevent federal funding of abortions, the same
issue that nearly stopped the House of Representatives from
passing its health care bill six weeks ago.

With the deal, Senator from Nebraska Ben Nelson, a strong
opponent of abortion, became the 60th and crucial last member
of the Democratic caucus to line up to back the USD 871-
billion measure, which is projected to provide coverage to an
additional 31 million people by 2019.

Nelson`s backing gave the Democrats the crucial 60 votes
needed to move the bundle of recent amendments, which involved
a spate of compromises, to the Senate floor.

"Change is never easy, but change is what`s necessary in
America today. That`s why I intend to vote for cloture and for
health care reform," Nelson told reporters.

Cloture is the procedure that allows senators to place a
time limit on consideration of a bill or other matters, and
thereby overcome a filibuster.

Obama quickly welcomed Nelson`s backing, saying: "Today
is a major step forward for the American people," Obama said.

"After a nearly century-long struggle, we are on the cusp
of making health care reform a reality," he said at a brief
press conference.

"With today`s developments, it now appears that the
American people will have the vote they deserve on genuine
reform that offers security to those who have health insurance
and affordable options for those who do not," Obama said.

The Senate now remains on track to pass its version of
the bill by Christmas.

Two liberal US senators, Bernie Sanders, a Vermont
Independent who caucuses with the Democrats and Sherrod Brown,
from Ohio, who had not committed to supporting the 2,074-page
health care bill also announced on Saturday that they would
vote "yes" on its passage.

Getting a bill to Obama`s desk quickly is a top priority
for many Democrats, who are eager to move past the health care
issue and turn to jobs and other economic issues that voters
now consider more important, Los Angeles Times reported.

But the abortion deal with Nelson marked a crucial
milestone in Democrats` drive to enact the most extensive
change to America`s health care system since the creation of
Medicare 44 years ago.

The health bill proposes a health insurance exchange for
those unable to afford health coverage or do not have
coverage. No federal funds could be used to cover abortions
for people participating in the exchange, it says.

According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the
legislation would offer a decrease in the deficit of USD 132
billion over the first decade.

The new cost for the revised Senate bill is USD 871
billion, the CBO said. The previous price tag was USD 848
billion.

PTI



First Published: Sunday, December 20, 2009 - 19:15

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