WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate decided in a 60-39 vote Saturday night to push forward historic health care legislation, which is expected to be debated after Thanksgiving.
Both Republican Maine senators voted against the bill Saturday, citing possible drawbacks for small businesses and the middle class, including senior citizens, and lack of mechanisms to deal with rising health care costs.
Sen. Olympia Snowe cited her disappointment that rather than Democrats and Republicans working together on a consensus bill, “a political line was drawn in the sand” with Saturday’s vote.
“Moving forward, I will offer amendments as legislation is considered on the floor. The impending amendment process will be a true test of whether there is a will to improve this Legislation in a non-ideological, bipartisan manner, with constructive changes as I have proposed,” Snowe said in a prepared statement.
Snowe expressed concern that the legislation submitted by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, does not include a safety net for people who cannot otherwise afford health insurance; that health care for small businesses could be more expensive than it is now; and that the Congressional Budget Office has not assessed whether the proposed plans would be affordable.
“We absolutely should not proceed to a debate when no one can adequately answer what the average plan will look like with respect to premiums, deductibles, co-pays, and co-insurance requirements; the questions the American people are rightly asking,” Snowe said.
Sen. Susan Collins also urged her colleagues to work together to develop a bipartisan proposal, rather than continue pursuing what she described as a divisive and partisan bill.
“We must find a way to control the health care costs that have driven up the cost of coverage for families, employers and governments alike. But Senator Reid’s proposal falls far short when it comes to reining in the cost of health care. This is a critical issue because the high cost of health care is the biggest barrier for those who lack insurance. My concern is that this bill would actually drive up the cost of health insurance for many middle-income families and small businesses,” Collins said in a prepared statement.
Collins also said that proposed new penalties could result in reduced wages and lost jobs for American workers at a time when unemployment is at more than 10 percent; and the legislation would create a taxpayer-subsidized, government-run health insurance company that could result in fewer choices and higher costs.
“This legislation would cut hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicare, which provides care for our oldest Americans and most vulnerable citizens. These cuts would adversely affect the ability of Maine’s hospitals, nursing homes, home health agencies and other health care providers to provide essential services to our seniors,” Collins said.
Majority Leader Reid accused Republicans of trying to stifle a historic debate the nation needed.
“Imagine if, instead of debating whether to abolish slavery, instead of debating whether giving women and minorities the right to vote, those who disagreed had muted discussion and killed any vote,” he said.
All 58 Senate Democrats and two independents voted in favor of advancing the bill. The 39 opposing votes were Republicans. Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, was the only senator not to vote.
The House approved its version of the bill earlier this month on a near party line vote of 220-215.
Robert Gibbs, press secretary for President Obama, issued the statement, “The president is gratified that the Senate has acted to begin consideration of health insurance reform legislation. Tonight’s historic vote brings us one step closer to ending insurance company abuses, reining in spiraling health care costs, providing stability and security to those with health insurance, and extending quality health coverage to those who lack it. The president looks forward to a thorough and productive debate.”