After months of tough negotiations, Senate Democrats have come together to back a sweeping health care legislation, providing a powerful boost for President Barack Obama’s top domestic policy goal that promises to extend medical coverage to 31 million Americans.
The breakthrough came after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his lieutenants engineered a delicately crafted compromise to prevent federal funding of abortions, the same issue that nearly stopped the House of Representatives from passing its health care bill six weeks ago.
With the deal, Senator from Nebraska Ben Nelson, a strong opponent of abortion, became the 60th and crucial last member of the Democratic caucus to line up to back the $ 871 billion measure, which is projected to provide coverage to an additional 31 million people by 2019.
Mr. Nelson’s backing gave the Democrats the crucial 60 votes needed to move the bundle of recent amendments, which involved a spate of compromises, to the Senate floor.
“Change is never easy, but change is what’s necessary in America today. That’s why I intend to vote for cloture and for health care reform,” Mr. Nelson told reporters.
Cloture is the procedure that allows senators to place a time limit on consideration of a bill or other matters, and thereby overcome a filibuster.
Mr. Obama quickly welcomed Mr. Nelson’s backing, saying: “Today is a major step forward for the American people.”
“After a nearly century-long struggle, we are on the cusp of making health care reform a reality,” he said at a brief press conference.
The Senate now remains on track to pass its version of the bill by Christmas.
Two liberal U.S. senators, Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Independent who caucuses with the Democrats and Sherrod Brown, from Ohio, who had not committed to supporting the 2,074-page health care bill also announced on Saturday that they would vote “yes” on its passage.
Getting a bill to Mr. Obama’s desk quickly is a top priority for many Democrats, who are eager to move past the health care issue and turn to jobs and other economic issues that voters now consider more important, Los Angeles Times reported.
But the abortion deal with Mr. Nelson marked a crucial milestone in Democrats’ drive to enact the most extensive change to America’s health care system since the creation of Medicare 44 years ago.
The health bill proposes a health insurance exchange for those unable to afford health coverage or do not have coverage. No federal funds could be used to cover abortions for people participating in the exchange, it says.