After vowing to use every procedural roadblock at their disposal to delay a final vote on the health care overhaul bill, Senate Republicans finally gave up and headed home for Christmas, hopefully in time to beat the blizzard spanking middle America. With Vice President Joe Biden presiding over the Senate, the "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act" (read it here) passed with a 60-39 vote along party lines this morning. Beginning at 7:05 a.m., Senators began casting their aye or nay votes, and when Biden came to ailing Robert Byrd, the 92-year-old Democrat from West Virginia, he said, "Mr. President, this is for my friend Ted Kennedy. Aye!"
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, said the insurance industry "deserves a stake through its cold and greedy heart." Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, noted the innumerable families driven to bankruptcy by the current system, remarking, "What we have right now is a moral disgrace. We are called upon to right a great injustice, a great wrong that has been put upon the American people."
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the bill would provide health coverage to 31 million people, while leaving 23 million uninsured in 2019; a third of those uninsured would be illegal immigrants. Under the bill, insurers could not deny coverage because of a person's medical condition; could not charge higher premiums because of a person's sex or health status; and would not be allowed to end coverage when a person becomes sick or disabled. Insurer's profits would theoretically be limited by requiring them to spend at least 80 to 85 cents of every dollar on medical care.
The CBO maintains that the $871 billion cost of the bill would be offset by new revenues and cuts in spending, and would reduce future federal budget deficits by $132 billion between 2010 and 2019. The new revenues include a payroll tax for individuals earning more than $200,000 and couples earning more than $250,000, and a new excise tax on high-cost insurance polices. The bill would set up insurance exchanges where people could compare health plans and buy insurance with tax credits. President Obama praised the passage:
After the vote, moderate Republican Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine told the Times, "I was extremely disappointed. There was zero opportunity to amend the bill or modify it, and Democrats had no incentive to reach across the aisle." And Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, Democrat of West Virginia, said the Senate"has gotten so much more partisan. This was so wicked. This was so venal." Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, blamed the World Wide Web: "The Internet is constantly badgering everybody. In the process, it’s gotten pretty doggone partisan, both ways."