Obama makes history as Senate passes healthcare bill (Lead)

December 24th, 2009 - 8:00 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama By Arun Kumar
Washington, Dec 24 (IANS) US President Barack Obama scored a major political victory Thursday with the Senate passing a $871 billion healthcare reform package, a key domestic goal that has eluded several presidents before him.

Senators voted 60-39 shortly after 7 a.m. to pass the bill, the centrepiece of Obama’s domestic agenda. The bill now moves to a conference committee to reconcile differences with the $1 trillion version passed by the House of Representatives last month.

The Senate healthcare bill cleared a third and final procedural hurdle Wednesday as Democrats successfully limited remaining debate time on the measure. That vote, also 60-39 along party lines, set up Thursday’s vote on final passage.

Democrats also turned back last-ditch motions from Republicans claiming various provisions in the bill, including a mandate that individuals purchase coverage, are unconstitutional.

“It’s long past time we declare healthcare a right and not a privilege,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said after Wednesday’s vote.

“Today is a victory … for American families,” proclaimed Sen. Max Baucus, D-Montana. “Americans won.”

The victory for Obama comes after nearly a year of sharply polarised deliberations on Capitol Hill. Increasingly confident Democrats hope to have a bill ready for Obama’s signature before his State of the Union address early next year.

Obama himself, in an interview with PBS Newshour Wednesday, said he was “very satisfied” that the Senate was on the verge of passing the bill.

Although Obama would have liked to see the final healthcare bill include a public option, he is overall “very satisfied” that both the House and Senate bills have 95 percent of what he wanted in there, or as he put it, “nine-tenths” of a loaf.

“Look, I’ve been in favour of the public option,” he told PBS. “I think the more choice, the more competition we have, the better. On the other hand, I think that the exchange itself, the system that we’re setting up that forces insurance companies to essentially bid for three million or four million or five million people’s business, that in and of itself is going to have a disciplining effect.”

But Obama said although he would have liked to see a public option as one of the elements in the final bill, it should not be a deal-breaker.

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