60, even though they didn’t need it…

It was early morning Christmas Eve, 4am for those of watching from the West Coast. Vice President Joe Biden presided for the final vote of HR3590, the Senate’s version of health reform. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid gave appreciation to staff, and final arguments were given by both Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and Reid.

McConnell was defiant. He gave clear indication, that this fight is long fron over. “We will do everything in our power to stop it from becoming law.”

Reid comments were touching, invoking Ted Kennedy and saying, perhaps hopefully, that “facts will always defeat fear.” He asked the assembled to think of those who were just when Truman made his call to the U.S. Senate to pass health reform, and who because of inaction, became uninsured during their life. Those babies are now months away from Medicare. As Reid said, that’s a gong time to wait, to get the commitment to provide health coverage.

To no surprise at this point, all Democratic and Independent Senators voted in support, including our California Senators @Barbara_Boxer and Dianne Feinstein. All Republicans in attendance (Sen. Bunning was not present) voting no. They only needed 50 votes (plus Vice President Biden) for this final vote but got the 60 that allowed the vote to take place. There was applause in the gallery, including from Senator Kennedy’s widow, who was in attendance, and Congressman John Dingell–two figures who indicated the long legislative history of attempts in this area. Many Senators gathered afterwards with handshakes and hugs.

Readers of this blog probably already have links to the early morning commentary of Jon Cohn and Ezra Klein. But if not, they are worth reading. Talking Points Memo has other response from across the political spectrum. There wass lots of commentary on the blogs and on Twitter, even by allies in California like @CPEHN, @CALPIRG_mike, and others, sometimes with the whimsical hashtag #cspanatdawn

The most important responses, however, are those of the members of the House of Representatives that have to negotiate with the Senate for a final bill. The three chairmen of the three main House Committees, including Californians George Miller and Henry Waxman, released this statement that suggests their positioning, pointing to similarities and differences:

“We commend our colleagues in the Senate for this crucial vote, which brings health reform closer to reality than at any time in the past 70 years. While there are clear differences between the bills passed by the Senate and the House, both bills will bring peace of mind and fundamental health care coverage to millions of Americans who are currently uninsured.

“Both bills will slow the growth of out-of-control health care costs and reduce the deficit by over $100 billion in the first ten years – and by much more in the second decade. Both bills will make unprecedented reforms to the insurance industry to hold insurers accountable and protect consumers from delays or denials of care based on pre-existing conditions, from rescissions, and from exorbitant out-of-pocket expenses that bankrupt far too many Americans. Both bills will protect and expand peoples’ choices of doctors and health plans. And both bills will offer relief to small businesses getting crushed by spiraling health costs.

“Now that the Senate has cleared this critical legislation, we look forward to working with them and the White House to reconcile and further improve our bills. We are committed to producing a final bill that incorporates the best reforms for middle-class families, small businesses, seniors and our fiscal health, stays true to the values of our members and delivers on the changes the American people desperately need.”

Finally, here’s yesterday’s statement, from Politico, from two other California Congresswomen, Lynn Woolsey, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and Barbara Lee, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, on what they are seeking in the final negotiations.

“Now that the Senate is poised to pass its version of a health care reform bill, it is time to turn to reconciling it with the House legislation… For Congress to achieve true health care reform we must have a meaningful conference process that integrates both bills into the best possible piece of legislation for the American people.”

They list top prioirities:

“A public option — If the bill requires people to buy health insurance, there must be a public option to bring down costs by providing lower-cost competition to private insurers and choice to consumers.”

“Affordability protections — The legislation must protect lower and middle-income individuals by ensuring that subsidies make coverage affordable and that Medicaid patients have access to primary care physicians.”

“Tighter market regulations — New regulations must keep premiums reasonable and end abusive practices. Insurance companies should no longer be exempt from anti-trust laws and any premium increases must be reviewed before they take effect.”

“Employer mandates — If individuals are required to buy insurance, employers should be required to provide it.”

“Tax surcharges — Health care reform should be financed by tax surcharges on the wealthy not excise taxes on health insurance plans offered to many workers and union members.

The final product will be better than the Senate bill, and I think by more than what the conventional wisdom suggests. For political and policy reasons, the House will not simply take what the Senate has passed. And while there are some specific areas where it will be hard to revisit hard-fought compromises, there’s still leaves lots of room for refinement and improvement. The pressure will be the timetable to get this done quickly.

But California advocates are especially important here, to communicate and advocate and organize with our key Congressional delegation what our priorities are for the final negotiations. We can’t disengage now–or at the very least, we need to get right back to work after the holiday break!

So finally, here’s the reaction from our ally and partner Richard Kirsch, National Campaign Manager, Health Care for America Now:

“With passage by the Senate, the nation has moved one big step closer to comprehensive health care reform. Health Care for America Now will work to get the strongest bill to the President’s desk, one that provides good, affordable coverage to all and holds insurance companies accountable. To realize the promise of reform, we need to be sure that employers are required to help pay for good coverage for their workers, that premiums are affordable to families, that we do not tax benefits, that we enact tough insurance regulations, and that we offer the choice of a public health insurance option. We will urge President Obama to work with leaders in both houses of Congress to agree on legislation that meets these goals, guaranteeing good health coverage we can count on.”

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.
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