Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev., left, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., center, listen as Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin of Ill. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 24, 2009, after the Senate passed the health care reform bill. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) (Associated Press)

Reactions to healthcare bill pour in

Senate passes healthcare reform -- and both sides try to score points


Alex Koppelman
December 24, 2009 6:06PM (UTC)

It may be the day before Christmas, but with the Senate having just voted to pass its healthcare reform bill, there was no way that various politicians, activists and interest groups would resist making their opinions on the subject known. Below, a round-up of some of those reactions, including remarks that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., made at a press conference shortly after the vote.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: Never before has the Senate found the resolve to make health insurance more affordable and health insurance companies more accountable until today. This is a victory for the American people. Those fortunate enough to have health insurance will be able to keep theirs, and those who do not will be able to have health insurance.

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This is a victory because we've affirmed that the ability to live a healthy life in our great country is a right and not merely a privilege for the select few. This morning's vote brings us one step closer to making Ted Kennedy's dream a reality; the dream of Americans also are part of that dream of Ted Kennedy's, and that's also become a reality.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: Today’s vote in the United States Senate brings us closer to providing quality, affordable health insurance to every American. I commend Senator Reid for his strong leadership in passing this bill, which takes a critical step on behalf of the health and security of all Americans.

We are proud of the House bill, which provides more affordable coverage for the middle class, covers 36 million currently uninsured Americans, begins health insurance reform in 2013, fully closes the prescription drug donut hole for seniors, mandates strong reforms of the insurance industry, and is fiscally responsible, cutting the deficit by $138 billion over 10 years.

As we move forward through the legislative process, we will soon produce a final bill that is founded on the core principles of health insurance reform: affordability for the middle class, security for our seniors, responsibility to our children by reducing the deficit, and accountability for the insurance industry.

I look forward to working with Members of the House, the Senate, and President Obama to reconcile our bills and send the final legislation to the President’s desk as soon as possible.

House Minority Leader John Boehner: Not even Ebenezer Scrooge himself could devise a scheme as cruel and greedy as Democrats’ government takeover of health care.

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Senator Reid’s health care bill increases premiums for families and small businesses, raises taxes during a recession, cuts seniors’ Medicare benefits, adds to our skyrocketing debt, and puts bureaucrats in charge of decisions that should be made by patients and doctors. The bill also authorizes taxpayer-funded abortions, violating long-standing federal policy. It’s no coincidence that the more the American people learn about this monstrosity, the more they oppose it.

This legislation is so toxic that Senator Reid needed to pull off a series of outrageous payoffs, kickbacks and sweetheart deals just to get the votes of members of his own party. The way in which Senate Democrats turned their backs on American families and put their votes on the auction block is a disgrace to our country.

President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, and Senator Reid will now hammer out a final bill in secret, despite campaign promises and pledges of the most "open and honest" Congress in history. The American people don’t want the future of their health care being decided behind closed doors by three liberal Washington Democrats. That's why they need to fight harder than ever, speaking loudly and with one voice, saying "stop." ...

Republicans are focused on offering better solutions to help put people back to work, reduce the deficit, and get government out of the bailout business once and for all. We have also proposed the only health care bill that would reduce premiums by up to 10 percent and consistently reduce federal spending on health care over the next two decades.

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Democratic National Committee chairman and Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine: Years from now, when historians look back on 2009, they will recall a Christmas Eve vote in the Senate that took us one giant step closer to finally delivering health reform to the American people ....

This bill will help more than 30 million Americans access quality affordable insurance. It will outlaw the insurance industry's worst practices, prohibiting insurance companies from denying coverage because of a pre-existing condition or retroactively canceling coverage when someone gets sick. It will lower premiums for individuals, families and businesses. And it will actually reduce our deficit by more than $130 billion over the next 10 years.

This bill accomplishes the goals President Obama articulated at the beginning of this debate: more stable and secure coverage for the insured, more quality affordable choices for the uninsured, and reducing the skyrocketing costs of care for everyone, including our government....

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This victory for the American people comes despite the incessant and virulent obstructionism of Senate Republicans. Not one voted in a favor of reform - a crippling commentary on their failure to fulfill the responsibilities of leadership. As we move forward, the onus is on the GOP to explain why they sided with their insurance industry friends instead of American families - why they turned their backs on workers and small businesses who are struggling to stay afloat under the status quo.

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele: This morning, as millions of Americans prepared to gather with their families in celebration of Christmas, President Obama and Harry Reid gathered with their liberal allies in celebration of government. Mr. Reid and company honored President Obama’s Christmas wish for increased federal control and passed their government-run health care experiment out of the Senate. Immediately following this vote, in a telling and strangely ironic legislative move, the Democrats voted to increase America’s credit card limit because even they know their deficit reduction claims are false. If they were truly proud of this so-called "historic" legislation then they should have stood by their pledge and allowed Senators and the American people 72 hours to read the full legislative text prior to voting instead of secretly rushing it through on Christmas Eve. In fact, most Democrats aren’t proud of this legislation and only voted for it after months of closed door meetings, back room deal making, and political compromise with Harry Reid and the White House. The Democrats have put a $2.5 trillion lump of coal in the stocking of every American knowing that their risky health care experiment still increases premiums, still cuts Medicare, and still enacts hundreds of billions of new taxes to pay for it. Scrooge would be proud. I know a majority of Americans are not. As we move forward, America can look forward to watching Nancy Pelosi conduct the arm-twisting needed to convince her most liberal colleagues that the Senate version is the best Trojan horse possible to hide a true single payer system, which is what this debate has always been about. This Christmas, the Democrats and President Obama have given America the one gift that keeps on taking.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.: It has been nearly two years since we began our work on health care reform here in the Senate. And all of that work has lead us to this moment -- to this historic vote.

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As we stand at the finish line here in the Senate, we are not alone. We stand with those who have blazed the trail ahead of us -- tireless champions of reform, such as our good friend Ted Kennedy.

We stand with the millions of American families who have been forced into bankruptcy to cover the cost of caring for a loved one who is sick. We stand on behalf of the 45,000 Americans who die each year simply because they do not have health insurance and the millions more who live in fear ....

This is a bill we can all be proud of. This is a bill that will finally provide the reforms American families, businesses and workers have been waiting on for decades. But there is more to be done before we can put these reforms to work for the American people.

I look forward to working quickly with my colleagues to bring the Senate and House bills together and deliver meaningful health care reform legislation to President Obama’s desk so the American people can begin to see the benefits of these historic reforms as soon as possible.

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Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisc.: The Senate health care bill is far from perfect. I am deeply disappointed it does not include a public option to help keep down costs and I also don’t like the deal making that secured votes with unjustifiable provisions. I will work to improve the bill, including restoring the public option, when the final version is drafted.

But, while this bill could and should have been much stronger, it includes very important provisions for Wisconsin that I worked to include... The bill also ends discrimination by insurance companies against people with preexisting conditions, expands coverage to 30 million more Americans and reduces the deficit by an estimated $132 billion. Despite the bill's flaws, it does meet the test of real reform, and the cost of inaction was much too high.

Bruce Josten, executive vice president for government affairs, U.S. Chamber of Commerce: Despite numerous polls showing the majority of Americans are opposed to the Senate health care bill, sixty senators chose to ignore their objections. The business community has been consistent in calling for health care reform, but the bill that was passed by the Senate today is counterproductive, does little to lower the cost of health care, and it is not reform. It implements crippling new taxes, and hurts our ability to create jobs at the worst possible time for the economy.

At every stage of the legislative process the business community has stood ready to work to improve health care legislation, but at almost every stage our concerns have been ignored.

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We recognize that the health care debate is not over yet. We are hopeful that a conference between the Senate and House can bring all stakeholders back to the table. Since employers are the ones who will be responsible for putting this reform into practice, their concerns must be addressed. It is not too late for Congress to stop this bill from becoming law and start over with the goal of truly reforming our health care system.

Tom McMahon, acting executive director, Americans United for Change: Today we are one another step closer to guaranteeing quality, affordable health care for all Americans. There is still a great deal of work to be done to ensure the best possible bill reaches President Obama’s desk. But when historians look back on this moment – and they will – it will mark a turning point in our long struggle to build a health care system Americans deserve. It may also leave a remarkable and indelible imprint on the Republican Party, whose decision to put political posturing before the needs of millions of Americans will tarnish the reputation of the GOP for years to come.

Under the Senate bill, more than 30 million people will gain health coverage. The Medicare program will be stronger and the federal deficit smaller. People with pre-existing health conditions won’t be rejected or charged higher premiums by insurers, and women will no longer have to pay more than men for the same coverage. Seniors will have expanded prescription drug coverage and young adults will have easy access to health insurance. Americans from every corner of the country will have a reason to be thankful for the Senate’s action today.

Richard Kirsch, national campaign manager, Health Care for America Now: With passage by the Senate, the nation has moved one big step closer to comprehensive health care reform. Health Care for America Now will work to get the strongest bill to the President’s desk, one that provides good, affordable coverage to all and holds insurance companies accountable. To realize the promise of reform, we need to be sure that employers are required to help pay for good coverage for their workers, that premiums are affordable to families, that we do not tax benefits, that we enact tough insurance regulations, and that we offer the choice of a public health insurance option. We will urge President Obama to work with leaders in both houses of Congress to agree on legislation that meets these goals, guaranteeing good health coverage we can count on.

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Karen Ignagni, president and CEO, America's Health Insurance Plans: Providing all Americans with health care coverage is crucial for the country. Health plans support legislative changes that would provide guaranteed access to all Americans, with no pre-existing condition limitations and no health-status-based premiums. These reforms are essential to giving all Americans greater peace of mind and health security.

At the same time, specific provisions in this legislation will increase, rather than decrease, health care costs; reduce coverage options; and disrupt existing coverage for families, seniors and small businesses – particularly between now and when the legislation is fully implemented in 2014.

These issues can and should be addressed if health care reform is going to fulfill the promise of providing all Americans with guaranteed access to affordable, portable health care coverage.

Ken Johnson, senior vice president, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA): We applaud the Senate for taking an important and historic step toward expanding high-quality, affordable health care coverage and services to tens of millions of Americans, many of whom are struggling today financially. While considerable work remains to be done in reconciling differences between the Senate and House bills, we remain convinced that comprehensive health care reform, if done in a smart way, will benefit patients, our economy and the future of our nation.

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Most importantly, the Senate bill recognizes the importance of medical progress in America. Innovative, cutting-edge medicines have dramatically increased life expectancy rates in the United States and have allowed patients with cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other devastating chronic diseases to live longer, healthier and more productive lives. We strongly believe that everyone in America should benefit from promising new advances in medical care.

By expanding coverage to more than 30 million uninsured Americans, the Senate is moving decisively in that direction. We embrace reform efforts which put an end to practices such as denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions or charging higher premiums because of gender. We also support expanding Medicaid eligibility to 133 percent of federal poverty – something we first proposed along with Families USA.

Our commitment to comprehensive health care reform is evident by our $80 billion pledge to reduce health care costs over 10 years. To that end, our companies agreed back in June to help most eligible seniors and disabled Americans who hit the so-called "donut hole" in Medicare Part D cut their out-of-pocket expenses on brand-name medications in half as part of the Senate’s health care reform legislation. The remainder of our commitment will help the government expand health care coverage to millions of Americans.

In the final analysis, we believe the Senate bill provides the best blueprint for reform. It offers the kind of change that will benefit patients today without putting medical progress at risk in the future. Today, we believe the Senate voted with America’s best interests and future in mind.

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Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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