The last of five Congressional committees with jurisdiction over health care has passed a reform bill. Senator Olympia Snowe was the only Republican to vote with the Senate Finance Committee Democrats, bringing the tally to 14 to 9. Snowe said earlier today that her vote of support today does not guarantee she will vote for the health reform bill once its merged with the bill passed by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and reaches the Senate floor. It takes 60 votes to end a filibuster on the Senate floor and allow a bill to come up for a vote, which needs only a simple majority. It’s possible Snowe and some conservative Democrats could vote to end a filibuster and still vote against a final bill.
The task ahead is for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to pull together the Finance and HELP committee bills into a single piece of legislation. While this work has undoubtedly already begun, there are significant differences between the bills to reconcile, including the public option. The HELP Committee bill includes one; the Finance Committee bill does not. While the decision over the public option will be contentious, it’s important to keep the process in perspective. Health reform has never been closer to reality.