Senate Passes Health-Care Reform Bill; Feingold, Rockefeller Issue Appeals to Progressives

Some day, I hope to pen a report on a congressional vote that does not begin with the words, "On a straight party-line vote..." Alas, today will not be the day (although, for a moment, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., appeared to have joined his Republican colleagues in voting against the bill).

At around 7:00 a.m., on a straight party-line vote, the Senate passed its version of health-care reform legislation, a feat many months in the making. So exhausted was Reid, who has been working virtually around the clock over the last seven days, that he initially voted "no" on his legislation when his name was called by the clerk, but he instantly righted -- or shall we say, lefted -- himself to vote "yes."

At his press conference after the vote, Reid quipped that his vote flub was an attempt at bipartisanship.

Despite the significance of this morning's vote, the health-care deal is a long way from done, and senators are feeling the heat from the left, as groups like the Progressive Change Campaign committee and FDL Action continue to pressure senators to bring back some form of a public health-insurance plan when House and Senate negotiators meet after the holiday recess to craft a single bill out of two. But given the Senate's peculiar arithmetic and the determination of Republicans to filibuster virtually any piece of legislation offered by Democrats, that seems unlikely to happen.

Responding to dismay from the progressive base about the loss of the public option, which was stripped from the final version of the Senate bill in order to win the votes necessary to bring the bill to the floor for a vote, several senators addressed the left's concerns directly in their floor speeches preceding today's vote.

"I am deeply disappointed [that the Senate bill] does not include a public option to help keep down costs and I also don’t like the deal making that secured votes with unjustifiable provisions," said Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wisc. " I will work to improve the bill, including restoring the public option, when the final version is drafted." (You can view video of Feingold's statement after the jump.)

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee is targeting Feingold with an ad it is airing in his home state.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller appealed more directly to progressives. "To those on the left, who are disappointed in what the bill does not do -- and in some cases are even calling for its demise -- I implore you to reconsider, to be a part of this solution even as we keep working on others, which I promise you I will do," Rockefeller said. "And I think you know I mean that when I say it."

Defeated in their attempts to stall passage of the Senate health-care bill to death, Republicans have set out to challenge the bill's constitutionality, a theme that will likely see amplification as senators return to their home states over the holiday recess. The constitutionality question is gaining enough steam that Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., one of the bill's architects, felt compelled to issue a statement [PDF] on the subject on Monday.

So, at last the senators go home for Christmas, giving us all a little breathing room -- until the next round. Can't wait to ring in the new decade with that House-Senate conference committee negotiation.


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