Senate Passes Health Care Overhaul 60-39

By Kathleen Gilbert

WASHINGTON, D.C., December 24, 2009 ( - Slightly after 7 a.m. the morning of Christmas Eve, the U.S. Senate voted to pass President Obama's health care overhaul, paving the way for the House and Senate bills to be reconciled before a final vote in both chambers early next year.

The body of lawmakers burst into applause after voting to pass the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2009 along a strict party line divide, 60-39.

The Senate parliamentarian required only a simple majority for the final passage. However, a significant question as to whether the measure should have required 66 votes remained unanswered by Senate leaders.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) argued Tuesday that, because the newly-revised bill contains explicit changes to the Senate rules, it should only be passable with a 2/3 majority - or 66 votes - according to the regular procedure. Presiding officer Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) denied the charge, however, claiming that the changes were to Senate procedure, not rules.

One change in question renders it illegal for a section governing the controversial Independent Medicare Advisory Board, once called the "death panels," to be repealed or changed by any future Congress.

GOP leaders had a foretaste of Democrats' willingness to break procedure last week when parliamentarian Alan Frumin illegally cut off a Republican stall tactic. "We don't want to be obstructionists on any policy they're willing to deal with fairly, but no one can say that this is a fair process, when they basically have a parliamentarian in their back pocket," Sen. DeMint told the Washington Times.

Just before the final vote Thursday morning, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell condemned the Democrats' tactics in passing a bill when "they know there is widespread opposition ot this monstrosity" among the American public. Polls have consistently shown steady majority opposition to the health care overhaul - usually with nearly twice as many strongly opposed as strongly in favor.

"It's also clear that even many people on this side who are going to soupport this bill don't like it," said McConnell. "Otherwise, Democratic leaders wouldn't have had such a tough time rounding up the votes. Otherwise, Democrat leadership wouldn't have had to have votes in the middle of the night, or at the crack of dawn, or over the weekend, or even during a blizzard. Otherwise, they wouldn't be rushing it through Christmas Eve."

"I guarantee you, the people voting for this bill are going to get an earful when they finally get home for the first time since Thanksgiving," he said. "This fight is long from over. My colleagues and I will work to stop this bill from becoming law. That's the clear will of the American people, and we're going to continue to fight on their behalf."

Senate Majority leader Harry Reid responded by saying that Democrats arriving home would, instead, get "an earful of wonderment and happiness."

"I'm going to hear from young Caleb. Of a boy, Mr. President, who was born with legs that stopped here, right above his knees, who needed a set of new prosthetic devices because the rest of his body's growing," said Reid. "But the insurance company says no because he has a pre-existing disability. I'll get an earful from Caleb and especially his parents, an earful of joy and happiness."

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