With the Senate set to begin debate Monday on health care overhaul, the all-hands-on-deck Democratic coalition that allowed the bill to advance is fracturing.
Some Democratic senators say they’ll jump ship without tighter restrictions on abortion coverage. Others say they’ll go unless a government plan to compete with private insurance companies gets tossed. Such concessions would enrage liberals, the heart and soul of the party.
There’s no clear course for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to steer legislation through Congress to President Barack Obama. You can’t make history unless you reach 60 votes, and don’t count on Republicans helping him.
President Barack Obama is paying a price for a recession that began before he took office, and fellow Democrats have started to balk at his legislative agenda and demand greater efforts to create jobs.
Some liberal Democrats even want Obama to replace his economic team while moderates fear his bid to overhaul healthcare and stem global warming — two top priorities — may mean more fiscal hard times, at least in the short term.
In one sign of the angst on Capitol Hill, a group of black Democratic lawmakers last week temporarily blocked a bill to tighten financial regulation, another Obama priority, signaling they believe more help is urgently needed for the unemployed.
“There’s a lot of anxiety among Democrats,” said Anne Mathias of Concept Capital Washington Research Group, a private firm that analyzes Congress for institutional investors.
Invoking the memory of Edward M. Kennedy, Democrats united Saturday night to push historic health care legislation past a key Senate hurdle over the opposition of Republicans eager to inflict a punishing defeat on President Barack Obama. There was not a vote to spare.
The 60-39 vote cleared the way for a bruising, full-scale debate beginning after Thanksgiving on the legislation, which is designed to extend coverage to roughly 31 million who lack it, crack down on insurance company practices that deny or dilute benefits and curtail the growth of spending on medical care nationally.
The spectator galleries were full for the unusual Saturday night showdown, and applause broke out briefly when the vote was announced. In a measure of the significance of the moment, senators sat quietly in their seats, standing only when they were called upon to vote.
Republicans are seizing on this week’s recommendations for fewer Pap smears and mammograms to fuel concern about government-rationed medical care — and to try to chip away support by women for President Barack Obama’s proposed health care overhaul.
“This is how rationing starts,” declared Jon Kyl of Arizona, the party’s second-in-command in the Senate, during a news conference. “This is what we’re going to expect in the future.”
Said Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska: “Those recommendations will be used by the insurance companies as they make a determination as to what they’re going to cover.”
A crucial first Senate vote on President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul in a rare Saturday night session looms as a test of Democratic unity and the president’s prestige.
Democratic leaders are optimistic of success, but they need every Democrat and both independents to vote “yes,” and two moderates remained uncommitted ahead of the roll call, which is expected around 8 p.m. The vote will determine whether debate can go forward on Majority Leader Harry Reid’s 2,074-page bill to dramatically remake the U.S. health care system over the next decade.
Digging in for a long struggle, Republican senators and governors assailed the Democrats’ newly minted health care legislation Thursday as a collection of tax increases, Medicare cuts and heavy new burdens for deficit-ridden states.
Despite the criticism, there were growing indications Democrats would prevail on an initial Senate showdown set for Saturday night, and Majority Leader Harry Reid crisply rebutted the Republican charges. The bill “will save lives, save money and save Medicare,” he said.
The legislation is designed to answer President Barack Obama’s call to expand coverage, end industry practices such as denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions, and restrain the growth of health care spending.
After months of maneuvering, the Senate stands at the brink of a historic battle over health care with President Barack Obama and his allies on one side and Republicans, outnumbered but unflinching, on the other.
“Now it’s America’s turn, and this will not be a short debate,” Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, warned after Majority Leader Harry Reid unveiled long-awaited legislation Wednesday night to extend coverage to 30 million more Americans and force insurance companies to take all comers.
“Higher premiums, tax increases and Medicare cuts to pay for more government. The American people know that is not reform,” McConnell said.
West Virginia Sen. Robert C. Byrd has become the longest-serving lawmaker in congressional history, a milestone to be marked Wednesday with a Senate resolution.
“I look forward to serving you for the next 56 years and 320 days,” Byrd said in a statement marking the occasion. His only regret, Byrd said, was that his late wife, Erma, was not there with him.
“I know that she is looking down from the heavens smiling at me and saying congratulations, my dear Robert — but don’t let it go to your head,” Byrd said.
It was unclear whether Byrd would be able to attend Wednesday’s session.
Setting records is old news to the white-maned Democratic lawmaker. Since June 12, 2006, Byrd has been the longest-serving senator and later that year he was elected to an unprecedented ninth term. His colleagues have elected him to more leadership positions than any senator in history. He has cast more than 18,000 votes and, despite fragile health that has kept him from the Senate floor during much of this year, has a nearly 98 percent attendance record over the course of his career.
Business foes of health care overhaul legislation are outspending supporters at a rate of 2-to-1 for TV ads as they grow increasingly nervous over a final bill.
Led by the giant U.S. Chamber of Commerce, opponents of the Democratic health care drive have spent $24 million on TV commercials over the past month to $12 million spent by labor unions and other backers. That’s an abrupt reversal from the vast spending advantage supporters enjoyed most of this year, according to Evan Tracey, president of Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks political ads.
Abortion rights groups, outflanked and outnumbered in the health debate, are scrambling to regain lost ground after the House passed a health bill with strict abortion limits.
They’re blanketing Capitol Hill with lobbyists, petitions, letters and phone calls in efforts to defeat the restrictions in the Senate, where debate could begin in a few days. They also have a larger goal: to prove that with their Democratic allies in control of the White House and both congressional chambers — but increasingly appealing to conservative voters who back abortion limits — they still have clout.