By Jeffrey Young and Molly K. Hooper - 03/26/10 01:02 AM EDT
The House put the finishing touches on healthcare reform Thursday night by passing a “fixes” bill that finally will allow President Barack Obama and his allies on Capitol Hill to declare final victory on what had been one of the Democratic Party’s biggest pieces of unfinished business.
The bill encompasses the White House-brokered compromises between the Senate-authored healthcare reform law Obama enacted Tuesday and the version the House passed in November.
Little over six hours after the Senate tweaked and approved the
reconciliation package, lawmakers in the lower chamber sped through a
Rules committee meeting and several votes to send the "fixes" to the
healthcare bill to the floor.
The scene unfolding in the House chamber was starkly different than on Sunday. Instead of protesters and packed galleries, lawmakers spoke to a sparsely attended chamber.
A handful of members discussed the merits of the amended reconciliation bill, which includes a student loan program to help offset the cost of the president's billion-dollar healthcare plan, while others attacked the healthcare law and the philosophical differences of the parties.
Most, though, wanted to go home and did -- quickly.
Though the healthcare reform bill is already law, Congress had some work left to do after Obama’s signing ceremony Tuesday.
The Senate had to advance a second House-passed bill under budget reconciliation rules that would allow it to pass on a simple majority vote. The House approved the reconciliation “fixes” bill along with the healthcare reform bill on Sunday.
After a frenzied three days of debate, late-night sessions and a “vote-a-rama” on dozens of Republican amendments, the Senate approved the reconciliation bill on a 56-43 tally Thursday afternoon. Three Democrats voted against the bill -- Sens. Ben Nelson (Neb.), Mark Pryor (Ark.) and Blanche Lincoln (Ark.).
Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the vice chairman of the Democratic Conference, said leaders expected more Democrats to oppose the measure. “Fifty-six is more votes than we thought we had,” he said.
But Senate Republicans succeeded in using reconciliation rules to strip a handful of items, related to the student-lending bill attached to the healthcare measure, from the legislation, forcing another House vote.
Several Democrats also voted in supported of some GOP amendments to the reconciliation bill but none were approved. Senate Democrats, who promised their House counterparts not to alter the legislation, offered no amendments during the three days of floor consideration.