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It was the ultimate Christmas Eve present for Barack Obama. Around 7 a.m. one year ago today, every Democratic senator in office – 60 in all – voted in favor of enacting comprehensive health care reform. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had leveraged the threat of spending Christmas in the Capitol to force even reticent Democratic senators to support the landmark legislation, close a major chapter of the debate over health care and head home for the holiday.
In a brief press conference after the vote, Democratic Senate leaders lauded each other and celebrated their historic victory. Max Baucus, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, which assembled most of the bill, referred to a “finish line.” Sen. Chuck Schumer argued that negative rhetoric over the bill had “piqued” and that the legislation would soon become more popular. Obama, before flying to Hawaii for his family Christmas vacation, said, “Let’s make 2010 the year we finally reform health care in the United States of America.” (See 10 health care reform ads.)
By March 2010, Obama’s Christmas wish had been granted – and the final version of the law did closely resemble the bill passed by the Senate on Dec. 24, 2009. But getting that done required a much more torturous path than the President or Senate Democrats could have imagined. And that, in retrospect, has a lot to do with why Baucus’s and Schumer’s optimism about the public’s view of health reform turned out to be misguided.