I’m up early this morning to watch the coverage of the Senate vote on health reform. Capitol Hill looks so festive that I am a little sorry that I didn’t make it up there to see it in person.
Vice President Biden just arrived to preside in his capacity as president of the Senate, though it doesn’t look like he will be needed to break a tie. Also there: John Dingell, the longest-serving member of the House. Dingell sits in the seat once held by his father, a legendary New Deal-era Congressman whom I have often thought of as I have watched the debate this year. Harry Reid, of course, is the man of the hour, and many of his colleagues have been saluting him when they see him.
6:50 a.m. Reid begins by saluting the work of the Senate staff, from the clerks, to the doorkeepers, to the security staff, to the cloakroom staff. (HT: Especially those clerks, who have been doing yeoman’s work reading all that legislation aloud.) Mitch McConnell calls this praise “entirely appropriate,” before launching into another denunciation of a bill passed “on party-line votes in the middle of the night.”
6:56 a.m. Reid says they were holding votes in the middle of the night because the Republicans made them. Agrees with McConnell prediction that “we will hear an earful” when Senators get home, but says it will be “earful of wonderment and happiness.”
7:00 a.m. Full text of McConnell closing remarks:
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell made the following remarks on the Senate floor on Christmas Eve regarding health care:
“It’s early. I’ll be brief. The most obvious problem with the bill before us is that it doesn’t do what it was supposed to.
“The one test of success for any bill was whether it would lower costs. This bill fails that test.
“It’s also clear that even many of the people who support this bill with their votes don’t like it.
“Otherwise, Democrat leaders wouldn’t have had such a tough time rounding up votes.
“Otherwise, Democrat leaders wouldn’t have had votes on it in the middle of the night, or at the crack of dawn, or over the weekend, or during a blizzard.
“Otherwise, they wouldn’t be rushing it through Congress on Christmas Eve — the first time this body has had a vote the day before Christmas in more than a century.
“This debate was supposed to produce a bill that reformed health care in America.
“Instead, we’re left with party line votes in the middle of the night, a couple of sweetheart deals to get it over the finish line, and a public that’s outraged.
“A problem they were told would be fixed wasn’t.
“I guarantee you the people who voted for this bill are going to get an earful when they finally get home for the first time since Thanksgiving.
“They know there is widespread opposition to this monstrosity.
“This fight isn’t over. My colleagues and I will work to stop this bill from becoming law.
“That’s the clear will of the American people — and we’re going to continue to fight on their behalf.
7:02 a.m. Reid: “Our charge is to move forward.”
7:03 a.m. Reid: “We’re here because facts will always defeat fear.”
7:04 a.m. Third reading dispensed with, and the vote begins. Senators are voting from their desks, each standing as his or her name is called. This degree of formality is something you rarely see on the Senate floor.
7:11: Applause and laughter as Reid seems to almost miss his cue to vote. (Update: CNN tells us that he actually slipped up and voted no, before correcting himself.) I’m still trying to figure out what Robert Byrd said when he cast his vote. It was something along the lines of “for me and my friend Ted Kennedy, aye.”
7:12: The bill has passed. Voting continues.
7:14: We await the last three votes. It looks like party-switcher Arlen Specter cast the 50th in favor.
7:16 a.m.: Bill passes 60-39. So which Republican didn’t show up?
7:19 a.m.: Lots of hugs and congratulations on the Senate floor. C-SPAN telling us that Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky was the only member of the U.S. Senate who had apparently found something more important to do this morning. Last-minute Christmas shopping?
7:26 a.m. Here are Reid’s closing remarks, a copy of which just arrived in my mailbox and perhaps a fitting end for this thread:
Washington, D.C.—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid delivered the following remarks on the Senate floor this morning before a historic vote on final Senate passage of The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Like so many endeavors that have benefitted so many Americans, making health insurance more affordable and health insurance companies more accountable is a process. It is one that has required us to find common ground, as we should.
“This morning is not the end of that process; it is merely the beginning. We will continue to build on this success, to improve our health system even more, and to further ease the terrible burdens on American families and businesses.
“But that process cannot begin unless we start today. The American people and the American economy cannot afford for us to wait for next time – because there may not be a next time.
“Nearly 65 years ago, Harry Truman condemned a system that condemns its citizens to the devastating economic side effects of sickness. Nearly 65 years later, we still suffer from the same. Just months after World War II came to a close, President Truman wrote this in a letter to Congress:
‘We should resolve now that the health of this nation is a national concern; that financial barriers in the way of attaining health shall be removed; that the health of all its citizens deserves the help of all the nation.’
“Decades passed and those financial barriers grew taller, but we never found that resolve – until today.
“This is how long we’ve waited: Think of those who were just one year old in 1945, the day Truman issued his call to action. Of those, there are many – far too many – who have lived their entire lives without the ability to afford health care.
“Coverage got more and more expensive each year. Insurance companies found more and more excuses to leave them out in the cold. And for those who worked in a small business, or owned one, or moved from job to job, the peace of mind health care can provide was merely a dream.
“Today – on the verge of the year 2010 – those Americans are finally just months away from qualifying for Medicare. That’s a long time for a citizen to wait for health care in the greatest and richest nation the world has ever known.
“How much longer can we afford to put this off, or ask the uninsured for their patience? Until health care costs consume not just a sixth of our economy, but a third, or a half? Until premiums consume a more than half of a family’s income?
“We certainly don’t have the luxury of waiting until America becomes the only developed nation on earth where you can die for lack of health insurance – we already bear that blemish.
“That is why we are bringing security and stability to millions who have health insurance – and bringing health insurance to millions who have none.
“We will ensure consumers have more choices and insurance companies face more competition.
“We will stand up to those greedy insurance companies that deny health care to the sick and drive millions to bankruptcy or foreclosure or worse.
“We will add years to the life of Medicare, which will add years to the life of our seniors.
“We will trade a system that demands you pay more and get less for one in which you will pay less and get more.
“And as we do all this, we will slash our children’s deficit in dramatic measure.
“We may not completely cure this crisis today or tomorrow, but we must start toward that end. We must strive for progress, and not surrender for want of purity. Our charge is to move forward.
“It is a tradition as old as this republic, one that has always comprised interests and opinions as diverse as the people who populate it. The Founders did not promise to form an infallible new nation – they promised instead to promote the general welfare as we move toward a ‘more perfect union.’ They valued progress.
“Our nation’s earliest leaders promised not absolute happiness, but only the ‘pursuit’ of that goal. They valued opportunity. And like other new programs that improved the lives of many, and were since strengthened to improve even more – programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security – progress and opportunity are what this historic bill represents.
“To those who so admirably care so much for their fellow man that they demand more, I say: This is just the beginning. With Senator Ted Kennedy’s booming voice in our ears – with his passion in our hearts – we say, as he said: The work goes on, the cause endures.
“Opponents of this bill have used every trick in the book to delay this day. And yet, here we are, minutes away from doing what many have tried, but none has ever achieved.
“We are here because facts will always defeat fear.
“And though one might slow the speed of progress, its force cannot be stopped.
“I’m sorry to say that for the first time in American history, a political party has chosen to stand on the sidelines rather than participate in great – and greatly needed – social change.
“I’m sorry to see that many on the other side have resorted to myths and misinformation, and continue to rely on them long after they were debunked.
“And it’s regrettable that they view our citizens’ health care crisis through a political lens.
“Because affording to live a healthy life isn’t about politics, or partisanship, or polling.
“It is about people. It’s about life and death in America. It’s a question of morality, of right and wrong. It’s about human suffering. And given the chance to relieve this suffering, we must take it.”