In Senate, Health Bill Faces Major Challenges
The battle over health care shifted back to the Senate as President Obama prodded lawmakers on Sunday to push ahead one day after the House narrowly approved the most sweeping bill of its kind in four decades.
Obama hailed the House for passing a bill the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says would extend coverage to 36 million more Americans at a cost of $1.2 trillion in the first 10 years, but he acknowledged the difficult path ahead as the Senate struggles to finish its own version of the legislation by the end of the year.
"Now it falls on the United States Senate to take the baton and bring this effort to the finish line," Obama said from the Rose Garden on Sunday. "I'm absolutely confident that they will."
With less than seven weeks left on its calendar, the Senate timeline to start debate is uncertain. Even if the chamber passes a bill, lawmakers will have to work out differences with the House proposal, including how to pay for billions of dollars in new subsidies to help families buy coverage.
Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, said the House vote provided "good momentum," but there was no indication that moderate senators needed to pass the bill had warmed to controversial measures such as a proposed government-run insurance plan.
"If the public option plan is in there . . . I will not allow this bill to come to a final vote," Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman - one of two independents Democrats are counting on - warned on Fox News Sunday. "I believe the debt can break America."
After weeks of negotiations and a last-minute push by Obama, the House voted 220-215 Saturday to approve the most far-reaching health care bill Congress has considered since the creation of Medicare in 1965. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi succeeded only after allowing an amendment that prohibits federal money from being used for abortions.
The bill would require nearly every American to buy a health insurance policy, expand Medicaid to cover 15 million more people and prohibit insurers from denying or cancelling coverage because of pre-existing conditions. About 18 million would remain uninsured - a third of whom would be illegal immigrants - according to the non-partisan CBO.
House and Senate Republicans argued the bill would create huge tax increases on small businesses and could force millions of Americans out of their current coverage. While 39 House Democrats voted against the bill only one Republican, Louisiana Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao, supported it.
"The House bill is dead on arrival in the Senate," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told CBS' Face the Nation. "It was a bill written by liberals for liberals." Democratic Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island predicted the bill would pass but, "It will take time."