U.S. Senate Approves Health Care Reform Bill
By a 60-39 vote, the Senate passed health care reform legislation (H.R. 3590) on Christmas Eve morning, December 24. The bill would provide coverage to an additional 31 million Americans, implement sweeping health insurance industry reforms, and reduce Medicare spending nearly $500 billion.
With Vice President Joe Biden exercising his prerogative to chair the session in his role as President of the Senate, the chamber voted along party lines to approve the $871 billion measure. The Senate's 58 Democrats and two independents supported the bill; 39 Republican senators opposed it. One Republican, Sen. Jim Bunning (KY) did not vote, but he posted a statement on his Senate website opposing the bill. (Under heavy pressure from fellow Republicans because of his low approval rating in his state, Bunning recently announced he will retire.)
U.S. Senate Chamber
The Senate vote, which occurred just after 7 a.m., was the first taken by the Senate on Christmas Eve since 1895. Vickie Kennedy, the widow of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-MA, and Rep. John Dingell, D-MI, the longest serving member of the U.S. House of Representatives, were on hand for the historic vote.
Senate passage of the bill is a major step toward getting legislation signed into law by President Obama. The Senate and House must now reconcile their bills to produce compromise legislation. That process – which will occur in what’s called a “conference committee” made up of a small group of Senators and Representatives – will be difficult because the bills contain several major differences. These include the design of health insurance exchanges, the structure of mandates on employers to provide coverage or pay some type of penalty, a public health insurance option in the House bill, new taxes on some health plans in the Senate bill, and a variety of special interest “side deals” for certain states and constituencies.
Lawmakers are hoping to send a final compromise bill to President Obama by the time he delivers his State-of-the-Union address in late January.
SHRM strongly supports strengthening and improving the current employer-based health care system, and the goal of providing all Americans with access to health care coverage. The Senate bill contains some provisions that are compatible with SHRM’s health care reform principles, and some provisions that are not. As a result, SHRM remains hopeful that the Senate and House can agree on a final bill that, on balance, includes reforms that are important to SHRM members.
After the holidays, SHRM’s Government Relations department will disseminate a side-by-side comparison of the Senate and House versions. Also, we will prepare a letter to the Senate and House conferees (who will not meet until January) recommending specific provisions be included in the final bill.