President Obama: 'Now it falls on the Senate to take the baton' on healthcare

The day after the House passed its version of a health care overhaul, President Barack Obama said he was “absolutely confident” that the Senate will do the same and that they will meet at the White House to sign it into law.

“Now it falls on the United States Senate to take the baton and bring this effort to the finish line on behalf of the American people,” he said on Sunday to members of the press at the White House Rose Garden. “And I’m absolutely confident that they will.”

ADVERTISEMENT
“I’m equally convinced that on the day we gather here at the White House and I sign comprehensive health insurance reform legislation into law, they’ll be able to join their House colleagues and say that this was their finest moment in public service.”

The House passed its Democratic-led healthcare bill on Saturday night by a narrow margin of 220-215, with 39 Democrats voting against it and one Republican, Rep. Joseph Cao (La.), coming out in support of the historic piece of legislation.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine on Sunday lauded the role of Obama’s former campaign manager David Plouffe in rallying supporters with the 13-million-strong e-mail list of the Organizing for America group, which he said rallied “the public to see through Republican scare-tactics and lies and energizing them behind the cause of our generation.”

The focus now switches to the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is still in the process of drafting a bill that combines the work of two Senate committees, meaning that a vote in the upper chamber could be dragged out until next year, which would inject a slew of election-year political dilemmas into the debate.


If the measure passes the Senate, it must go through a conference committee to iron out the differences between the House and Senate versions - a process that could ultimately result in a vastly different piece of legislation than the one agreed to in the House this weekend.

A spokesman for the National Republican Senate Committee (NRSC) was quick to point out that Democrats in the chamber may have a tougher time passing the legislation than in House. There are only 58 Democrats, plus Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who often caucus with the party.

But Lieberman has voiced his opposition to any measure that contains a public option insurance alternative, which jeopardizes the 60-vote threshold necessary to block a Republican filibuster.

“With all of the attention on last night’s healthcare vote in the House, it’s important to note that the Democrats do not have a 40 vote cushion in the Senate – in fact, they do not have a one vote cushion,” said Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the NRSC.

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) said Sunday, though, that he would “fight to ensure” that the Senate’s bill includes a public option in it as well.

Dodd led the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee’s approved draft of the healthcare bill and also has worked with Reid, Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), and the White House to merge the two bills into one Senate measure.

Republican opposition in the Senate to the House’s bill eminated strongly following the measure’s late-night success in the lower chamber.
 

ADVERTISEMENT
“Rarely has the disconnect between Congress and the American people been clearer than the vote tonight,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Kent.) said in a statement. “As this bill moves to the Senate, Republicans will continue to offer commonsense reforms to lower costs and increase access.”
 
And Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, agreed with Democrats that the bill was historic, but not in a good way.
 
“This bill is indeed historic in its combination of higher premiums, higher taxes, Medicare cuts and more federal debt,” he said in a statement. “I do not see how Tennessee can pay for its part of the Medicaid expansion without a new income tax or seriously damaging higher education, or both.
 
“We should start step-by-step to reduce costs by allowing small businesses to combine their health plans, permitting individuals to buy insurance across state lines and reducing junk lawsuits against doctors.”

On Sunday, Obama acknowledged the political difficulty that some lawmakers in the House had in coming to vote for the healthcare bill.

“Given the heated and often misleading rhetoric, I know this was a courageous vote for many members of Congress,” he said. “And I'm grateful to them and for the rest of their colleagues for taking us this far.”

Obama had said earlier in the week that a strong motivating force behind the possible House passage of the measure was the backing of the American Medical Association (AMA).

But early Sunday, rumors of rescinded support sprang up via Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), who tweeted, “On a flight back to Texas. It will be good to get home. I am hearing rumors that the AMA may rescind their endorsement of [healthcare] takeover.” The group has been meeting in Houston since Saturday.

But AMA president J. James Rohack re-emphasized the group’s commitment to the measure’s final passage and its support of the House version as passed.

“Passage of the House health reform bill is a big step forward as we work for comprehensive health reform this year,” Rohack wrote on the group’s website. “The AMA will continue its work with Congress and the administration to strengthen and improve health reform legislation as the process continues for patients and physicians.”

The head of the AARP hailed the passage as well, as CEO A. Barry Rand urged “those members who did not support health care reform tonight to reconsider the needs of their constituents when this issue returns to the House for a final vote.”

Healthcare heavy-hitter the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) had expressed serious concerns over some of the House provisions because it could cost it more than $100 billion.

ADVERTISEMENT
And while “disappointed” in the House’s bill, the group on Sunday emphasized its commitment to work with the Senate and the White House in crafting a final bill more to its liking.

“While well intentioned, the bill -- as passed -- would have the unintended consequences of killing tens of thousands of jobs in our industry at a time when the American economy is struggling and unemployment has soared above 10 percent,” said PhRMA Senior Vice President Ken Johnson in a statement.

The group, however, has reportedly struck a deal with the White House and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) that it believes will ultimately protect it from the harshest policies promoted by the House.

Business and labor groups also weighed in with a bevy of opposing statements on the bill's passage Sunday.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which opposed the House legislation because of the employer mandates and a proclaimed tax increase on small businesses, vowed to lobby heavily against the progress of the lower chamber’s measure.
 
“We urge the Senate to listen to the American people and reject the House’s partisan approach to health care.”

The president of Business Roundtable, John J. Castellani, opposed the passage, saying that it would “just shift cost to employers.”

“The House legislation contains many provisions that will threaten the coverage that 177 million Americans currently have through the employer-based system,” he said.

But Service Employees International Union (SEIU) President Andy Stern championed the measure’s passage. “It is now up to the Senate to lead with the same audacity to guarantee that meaningful health insurance reform does in fact happen this year,” he said.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka trumpeted the passage in the lower chamber, while shaming “those who stood for the failed status quo by voting ‘no.’”

“This bill is a great step forward for America's working families,” Trumka said. “But we still have a long way to go.”

This story was updated at 6:15 p.m.