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Health Care Bill Clears Senate Panel with One G.O.P. Vote

President Obama's top domestic initiative, health care reform, inched closer to final votes in Congress on Tuesday after clearing a key hurdle in the Senate Finance Committee. Betty Ann Bowser reports.

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    Supporters of health care reform won a signal victory today in the Senate Finance Committee. It pushed President Obama's major domestic initiative a big step closer to final votes in the House and Senate.

    "NewsHour" health correspondent Betty Ann Bowser has our "Lead Story" report.


    The Finance Committee's big day finally arrived after months of negotiating failed to yield a bipartisan agreement. The chairman, Montana Democrat Max Baucus, offered his own bill last month. And, today, he made a final appeal for support.

  • SEN. MAX BAUCUS, D-Mont.:

    My colleagues, this is our opportunity to make history. Our actions here will determine whether we extend better care to more Americans. Now is the time to get this done.

    Let's enact this balanced, commonsense plan to improve health care. Let us reform the health care system to control costs and premiums, and let us extend health care coverage to all Americans.


    According to the government scorekeeper, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the Baucus bill would cost $829 billion over 10 years, reduce the deficit over that time by $81 billion, and extend coverage to 29 million Americans who don't have health insurance.

    That would leave 25 million people without coverage. An estimated one-third of those are illegal immigrants.

    The committee's top Republican, Charles Grassley, of Iowa had joined in the negotiation, but in the end he said the Baucus bill goes too far.


    This bill is already moving on a slippery slope to more and more government control of health care. We have the biggest expansion of Medicare — Medicaid, I should say, since created in 1965. The bill imposes unprecedented federal mandate for coverage, backed up by enforcement by the authority of the Internal Revenue Service. It increases the size of government by at least $1.8 trillion when fully implemented.


    But with the committee dividing mostly down party lines, the real drama came when moderate Republican Olympia Snowe of Maine announced she would vote for the bill, at least in committee.


    So, is this bill all that I would want? Far from it. Is it all that it can be? No. But when history calls, history calls. And I happen to think that the consequences of inaction dictate the urgency of Congress to take every opportunity to demonstrate its capacity to solve the monumental issues of our time.


    Snowe's support gave the White House at least a momentary victory in its bid for bipartisan support. But she also warned, the measure must not be altered substantially when it's merged with a more liberal and expensive bill that includes a government-run insurance plan.

    Another moderate, Arkansas Democrat Blanche Lincoln, also fell into the yes column in the end.


    This bill changes the status quo, so that insurance companies work for the consumer, and not the other way around. It prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage based on preexisting condition. It prevents them from increasing your rates just because you get sick and from imposing arbitrary life — lifetime and annual limits on coverage.