Senate OKs health care fix-it bill, House is next
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON – Democrats pushed legislation to reshape parts of the new health care overhaul law through the Senate on Thursday and sent it to the House of Representatives, which was expected to give it final approval within hours.
Eager to get the contentious battle behind them, Democrats originally hoped the Senate’s vote would ship the measure to President Barack Obama for his signature.
But the bill had to go back to the House of Representatives because Senate Republicans discovered two minor provisions having to do with student grants that had to be changed because they violated budget rules. Both chambers must approve identical legislation before it can be sent to the White House.
Democrats say they do not expect any major problems and that their work should be finished by evening.
The Senate approved the measure by 56-43 Thursday, with Vice President Joe Biden presiding in case his vote was needed to break a tie. Underscoring the partisan divide that has characterized the long-running health care fight, all voting Republicans opposed the measure, as did three Democrats.
The bill is a companion to the main legislation passed by Congress over the weekend and signed by Obama on Tuesday.
The main health care bill would extend coverage to 32 million uninsured Americans over 10 years with a first-time requirement for nearly everyone to carry insurance and would ban insurance company practices such as denying coverage to sick people. The measure represents the biggest expansion of the U.S. federal government’s social safety net since the 1960s.
Obama’s drive to reshape the country’s health care system – capped Tuesday when he signed wide-ranging changes into law – has been a tortuous, bitterly fought journey from the start.
As if to mimic that, senators approved the bill Thursday after voting on 40 consecutive Republican amendments, with Democrats defeating every one. They voted until after 2 a.m. Thursday, then resumed the roll calls later in the morning, tallying a total of 13 hours of relentless voting.
“This has been a legislative fight that will be in the record books,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, said before the final Senate vote.
Outnumbered and all but assured of defeat, Republicans had forced the votes on amendments aimed at reshaping the measure – or at least forcing Democrats to take votes that could be used against them in the campaign for November congressional elections. One such proposed Republican amendment was to bar federal purchases of erectile dysfunction drugs for sex offenders, which one Democratic senator, Max Baucus, dismissed as “a crass political stunt.”
The Senate vote occurred as Obama used a campaign-style speech in Iowa City, Iowa, to tout his health care reform and dare Republicans to follow through on repeated threats to try repealing the law.
“My attitude is, go for it” and see how voters like that, he taunted.
“If they want to have that fight, we can have it. Because I don’t believe the American people are going to put the insurance industry back in the driver’s seat,” he said.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi voiced concern over warnings of violent reprisals against members of Congress who voted for the overhaul.
She said the response has “no place in a civil debate in our country.” Republicans, too, went to the House floor to plead with opponents of the health care law to refrain from violence and threats.
The FBI is working with lawmakers subjected to menacing obscenity-laced phone messages. In some instances, bricks were hurled at congressional offices, including Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter’s district headquarters in Niagara Falls, New York.
Both the House and Senate are hoping to begin a spring recess by this weekend.
Associated Press writer Darlene Superville contributed to this report.