Senate sends healthcare ‘fixes’ bill back to House

Healthcare reform’s long, strange journey was just hours from an end Thursday after the Senate advanced “fixes” to the newly enacted law.

By a 56-43 tally, the Senate approved a budget reconciliation bill containing the White House-brokered compromises between the Senate-authored healthcare reform law President Barack Obama enacted Tuesday and the House version of the bill.

ADVERTISEMENT
Once the House takes up the reconciliation bill later Thursday and Obama signs it, the White House and congressional Democrats will be able to put a punctuation mark on their historic and bruising campaign to reform the nation’s healthcare system.

“Last year, a supermajority of the United States Senate passed the most crucial social, economic and moral change in several generations. A couple of days ago, the president signed that into law and today we made that law even better,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Three Democrats voted against the bill -- Sens. Ben Nelson (Neb.), Mark Pryor (Ark.) and Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) -- but it easily prevailed because reconciliation bills require only a simple majority to pass, not the 60 votes typically needed to advance bills in the Senate. All three senators voted for the bill Obama signed when it passed the Senate in December.

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.

Reid provided a moment of levity during the vote when, as he did on Christmas Eve when the Senate passed the healthcare reform bill, he initially voted no by accident. Reid’s repeat of this mistake provoked a ripple of laughter on the Senate floor and in the galleries.

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.

The House is slated to take up the reconciliation bill Thursday evening. Despite successful Republican points of order that resulted in the deletion of a few provisions in the student-lending legislation attached to the healthcare bill, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) assured passage.

"We had the votes.  We will have it today again," Pelosi said. "This is all about the technicalities of what fits into reconciliation and that. This is quite benign, in terms of any change that would be made in the legislation."

Michael O’Brien contributed to this article