Senate Votes to Move Forward on Health-Care Bill: McCain Accuses Reid of Criminal Scheme

In debate leading to vote, McCain compared Reid to Madoff, Hatch invoked socialism, and Lincoln promised trouble ahead

Health-care reform legislation cleared a significant hurdle in the Senate on Saturday evening, as Democrats defeated a Republican-led effort to prevent the Patient Protection and Affordability Act, unveiled this week by Majority Leader Harry Reid, from moving to the Senate floor for debate. The vote split along party lines, 60-39. (The bill will almost certainly face a similar procedural fight after debate has concluded before a final vote is taken.)

As it became apparent that Democrats would be able to move the bill forward, Republicans used the debate over the procedure as a forum for tantrums and fear-mongering over details of the bill itself.

Most hysterical was Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who referred to the bill’s accounting -- signed off on by a very conservative Congressional Budget Office -- as a criminal Ponzi scheme.

“I think Bernie Madoff went to jail for this kind of behavior,” McCain said. Was he suggesting that CBO Douglas Elmendorf should be sent to the slammer? Or Harry Reid.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who, earlier this week, promised a “holy war” over the bill, today embarked on his jihad, which sounded a lot like the talking points advanced at Tea Party rallies by the astroturfing groups FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity.

“I hope they’re not trying to take us to socialism,” Hatch said.

Debate began yesterday under a cloud of uncertainty regarding whether Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would be able to rally every single member of the Democratic caucus to yield the 60 votes needed to break a Republican filibuster. Then, mid-day today, Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, the last hold-out in the caucus, announced that she would vote to allow the bill to move forward.

Lincoln, who is up for re-election in 2010, has been targeted by progressive organizations for home-state pressure. Progressive groups, such as FDL Action, have run ads in Arkansas prodding Lincoln, a very conservative Democrat, to vote for health-care reform, and FDL Action's Jane Hamsher dangled the prospect of a primary challenge at Lincoln should she prove to be an obstacle to health-care reform.

While announcing, from the Senate floor, her willingness to vote for the procedural motion known as cloture -- the mechanism by which a filibuster is broken -- Lincoln complained of the pressure under which she finds herself. (C-SPAN has the video here.)



Adele M. Stan is AlterNet's Washington bureau chief.
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