Washington Report

Dispatches from Capitol Hill

All They Want for Christmas is a Healthcare Bill

BillAfter 23 consecutive days of debate and clearing key procedural votes, the Senate is set to take a final vote on its $871 billion healthcare bill at 8 a.m. on Thursday, before dashing back home for Christmas. President Barack Obama said he would not begin his Hawaii vacation until the vote has taken place.

“I will not leave until my friends in the Senate have completed their work,” Obama said. “My attitude is that if they’re making these sacrifices to provide health care to all Americans, then the least I can do is be around to provide them any encouragement and last-minute help where necessary. That’s the deal.”

Democrats passed a crucial milestone on Monday when they successfully garnered the 60 votes needed to curtail further debate on the bill, effectively ending Republicans’ efforts to filibuster. In addition, the AARP and the American Medical Association launched a joint advertisement in support of the bill.

According to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nebraska), the bill would reduce the federal deficit by $132 billion in the first ten years and expand coverage to more than 31 million people who are currently uninsured.

Republicans, however, are furious, charging that it would do the opposite and that Democrats have been able to force the bill forward only by making backroom deals and making moves in the dead of night. RNC Chairman Michael Steele said the whole process was akin to Democrats “flipping a bird to the American people.”

Republican senators are feeling particularly sour about the sweet deal that Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska) made in exchange for his vote, which would exempt his state from paying for its share of federal Medicaid funds in perpetuity. But according to Reid, such deals represent “the art of compromise.”

“I don’t know if there’s a senator that doesn’t have something in this bill that was important to them,” he said. “And if they don’t have something in it important to them, then it doesn’t speak well of them.”

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