Skip to main content

Advanced Search

Advanced Search

Current Filters

Filter your query

Publication Types



Newsletter Article


Unified Democrats Push Giant Overhaul Bill Onto Senate Floor

By John Reichard, CQ HealthBeat Editor

November 21, 2009 -- An improbably unified Democratic party closed ranks Saturday evening to push its giant health overhaul package past another key milestone in the Senate, prevailing in a 60 to 39 vote on a procedural motion that opens the way for Senate action on the measure after lawmakers return in December from their Thanksgiving holiday recess.

Doing it meant a cross-country flight by Sen. Max Baucus from the bedside of his ailing mother in Montana, a Saturday night punching the time clock for nonagenarian West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd after months of battling various health problems, and straining rightward to pick up the votes of three red-state Democrats at odds with the public-option passion of many of their peers.

As their fellow Democrats managed to do in the House with passage of a similarly massive proposal, Senate Democrats pushed health care overhaul legislation farther in their chamber than it has ever gone before.

But the closer Democrats get to their goal of making an overhaul the law of the land, the tougher the resistance and the greater the doubts that they will ultimately prevail. Just as liberals in the House had to stomach tough anti-abortion language to win their victory, liberals in the Senate face the marginalization if not the elimination of the public option as the price they must pay for getting legislation through the chamber next month.

And at the same time, conservatives and centrists in the party will have to be willing to buck growing public unease over the financial risks that will be involved in making the measure law. Although it's considered budget-neutral by the Congressional Budget Office—no pushover in budget matters—the Senate bill worries other influential analysts.

Medicare actuary Richard Foster has expressed doubts that elements of its financing provisions will survive future lobbying to override Medicare cuts, and Republicans won a coup Saturday when Washington Post columnist David Broder pointed to the results of a recent Quinnipiac University poll saying that most Americans believe a health overhaul will add to the federal deficit.

"While the CBO said that both the House-passed bill and the one (Senate Majority Leader Harry) Reid has drafted meet Obama's test by being budget-neutral, every expert I have talked to says that the public has it right," Broder said in a column to be published Sunday. "These bills, as they stand, are budget-busters," Broder wrote. "The challenge to Congress—and to Obama—remains the same: Make the promised savings real and don't pass along unfunded programs to our children and grandchildren," he added.

On the other hand, Obama is no novice at accomplishing the improbable—and the party unity he has forged so far may be difficult to undo in the end.

Publication Details