With Nebraska's Ben Nelson on board (see Saturday Junkie post), Senate Democrats held a crucial vote on cloture shortly after 1 this morning on Majority Leader Harry Reid's compromise language (called a "manager's package") that included changed wording on abortion on Medicaid. All 40 Republicans voted against cloture, preferring to continue the debate and hold up the legislation. All 58 Democrats and two independents voted to end debate — the minimum number needed.
It passed 60-40.
Now you know why having 60 votes in the modern-day Senate is so important. That's not always the case, but it certainly was at 1 this morning.
And, unless something else happens, we're likely to see several more 60-40 votes this week, culminating in what Reid is aiming for: a Christmas-eve vote on final passage.
(Final passage, that is, in the Senate only. There is still the House version, with its government-run public option and anti-abortion Stupak amendment that the Senate will need to reconcile with. But we'll worry about that in 2010.)
As expected, both sides saw their roles in starkly different terms. As the New York Times' Herszenhorn & Pear report, "Democrats said it showed them poised to reshape the health system after decades of failed attempts," while "Republicans said that the bill was fatally flawed and that voters would retaliate against Democrats at the polls in November":
Each side blamed the other for the extraordinary series of votes — at dawn Saturday, after midnight Monday, at dawn again on Tuesday, at 1 p.m. on Wednesday and finally on Christmas Eve, when most Americans will be sequestered for the holiday.
The Democrats charged the Republicans with obstinately throwing every procedural obstacle in their way, including filibusters and the full 30 hours of debate allowed under the rules after each filibuster is broken by a vote of 60 senators.
The Republicans charged the Democrats with recklessly rushing to adopt a dizzyingly complex 2,700-page bill that would affect virtually every American, and would reshape one-sixth of the nation's economy at a cost of $871 billion over 10 years.
With Nelson on board as of Saturday, one would think that all the drama had disappeared. But the big snowstorm that hit Washington starting Friday evening threatened to keep some lawmakers away. With Amtrak having snow-related problems, a government plane was sent to New Jersey to retrieve Democrats Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez to make sure they could vote.
Republican, conservative and anti-abortion groups, as expected, blasted the vote. But not everyone on the left was happy either.
Drew Western, writing in the Huffington Post blog, blames Obama for having turned "a base of new and progressive voters he himself energized like no one else could in 2008 into the likely stay-at-home voters of 2010, souring an entire generation of young people to the political process":
The president's leadership style, combined with the Democratic Congress's penchant for making its sausage in public and producing new and usually more tasteless recipes every day, has had a very high toll far from the left: smack in the center of the political spectrum. ...
What's costing the president are three things: a laissez faire style of leadership that appears weak and removed to everyday Americans, a failure to articulate and defend any coherent ideological position on virtually anything, and a widespread perception that he cares more about special interests like bank, credit card, oil and coal, and health and pharmaceutical companies than he does about the people they are shafting.
And Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake said, "This isn't a 'starter home,' it's a sink hole. People from the right and left of the political spectrum understand that when insurance stocks are at a 52 week high, the robber barrons who created this mess are going to get rich at their expense just like the bankers did. ... Barack Obama just might achieve the bipartisan unity on health care he always wanted — Democrats and Republicans are coming together to say 'kill this bill.'"
But Professor Jacob Hacker at Yale University, a leading proponent of government-run health insurance who has said that the public option "is essential to ensuring accountability from private insurers and long-term cost control" — and who was "devastated when it was killed at the hands of Senator Joe Lieberman, not least because of what it said about our democracy — that a policy consistently supported by a strong majority of Americans could be brought down by a recalcitrant Senate minority" — blogs in The New Republic that, faults and all, the bill should be passed, and that the suggestion by Howard Dean that it should be killed is "tempting" but "wrong":
Since the first campaign for publicly guaranteed health insurance in the early twentieth century, opportunities for serious health reform have come only rarely and fleetingly. If this opportunity passes, it will be very long before the chance arrives again. Many Americans will be gravely hurt by the delay. The most progressive president of my generation—the generation that came of age in the anti-government shadow of Ronald Reagan—will be handed a crippling loss. The party he leads will be branded as unable to govern. ...
Progressives have good reason to be angry. Yet we should harness our anger to fix the bill—now and every year from now. The current bills in Congress do too little to help Americans immediately; their main actions are delayed for years. If and when legislation passes, progressives should demand immediate concrete actions to make the promise of a reform a reality more quickly and more effectively.
So a bill must pass. Yet it must be a better bill that passes. And it must be understood by the President, the Congress and every American as only a step—an important but ultimately incomplete step—toward the vital goal that the campaign for the public option embodied: good affordable health care for every American.