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Health care bill advances in Senate


       Senators Reid and Rockefeller rejoice after Senate health care vote,
       while Senator Dodd looks on (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

The Democrats withstood a withering challenge from the Republicans Saturday evening as the Senate voted to move a controversial health care bill to the debate floor after the Thanksgiving recess.  It is expected to result in weeks of political wrangling and horse-trading before it reaches the floor for a final vote, if it ever does, for it must pass yet another cloture test requiring 60 yeas before the vote can take place.

Nevertheless, the vote itself was anticlimactic, unlike the historic vote in the House of Representatives two weeks earlier, because the last two conservative Democratic holdouts,  Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, announced their decisions to proceed earlier in the day.  That nailed down the 60 votes needed to get past the filibuster, which has become the standard hurdle the Democrats have to jump over for virtually every piece of legislation.

My guess is that at this point the Democrats will not self-destruct, and that some kind of weakened bill will emerge from the Senate, be reconciled with the House version, and signed into law in January or February.  But the public option, if it survives at all, will be too weak to be effective, and there will be no robust provisions for reining in spiraling health care costs.  Still, the American people, for the first time in history, will finally be given the right to obtain affordable health insurance that cannot be denied or rated or canceled for reasons of one's health.  That is a significant milestone, a godsend to tens of millions, and a relief to all of us that we don't have to worry about losing coverage someday, just when we need it the most.

Bloomberg has prepared a convenient comparison of the House and Senate bills.  It is anybody's guess what the final bill that lands on Obama's desk will look like.  If one ever does, but I'm betting on it for the first time during this long, heated struggle in which the Republicans have done everything they could to block health care reform.  If that is their game plan for the future, to obstruct the Democrats anytime they are in power, our federal government will become dysfunctional, if it hasn't already.  This should please the anti-government crowd, particularly the Tea Partiers.

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