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Senate Debate on Health Care Will Put Lawmakers to the Test

While health care reform passed a key Senate hurdle over the weekend, the legislation still faces a full-scale floor debate. Judy Woodruff asks former secretaries of health to preview the road ahead for President Obama's top domestic priority.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Now: the road ahead for health care reform.

    Judy Woodruff has our story.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    President Obama voiced hope today that his campaign for health care reform was nearing completion.

  • U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    I updated the Cabinet on the progress that we're making on the health insurance reform legislation that's moving its way now through the Senate, and reiterated the urgent need for us to get to the finish line.

  • SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD, D-Conn.:

    Are there any senators who wish to vote or to change their vote?

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    It took a party-line vote Saturday night to squeeze past the latest obstacle. By 60-39, the Senate agreed to begin debate on Majority Leader Harry Reid's health care reform legislation.

    It aims to extend health coverage to an estimated 31 million uninsured Americans, at a cost of $848 billion over the next decade. After the vote, Leader Reid acknowledged, he still has a lot of work to do.

  • SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev.:

    The road ahead is a long stretch, but we can see the finish line. We have the momentum that's going to keep this process moving, I have no doubt.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    In fact, Reid needed sweeteners just to get Democrats to move the bill this far, including $300 million in federal aid for Senator Mary Landrieu's home state of Louisiana. And Landrieu warned she might not support the bill in the end.

  • SEN. MARY LANDRIEU, D-La.:

    My vote today should in no way be construed as an indication of how I might vote.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Moderate Democrats holding the critical swing votes generally object to the concept of a public option.

  • Arkansas’s Blanche Lincoln:

  • SEN. BLANCHE LINCOLN, D-Ark.:

    Let me be perfectly clear. I am opposed to a new government-administered health care plan as a part of comprehensive health insurance reform.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    By Sunday morning, there were more signs of cracks in the Democratic coalition. Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," independent Democrat Joe Lieberman of Connecticut said he agreed to let debate begin, but vowed again he will not vote for a final bill that includes any new government-sponsored health insurance.

  • SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN, I-Conn.:

    The public option in Senator Reid's bill will actually charge more for insurance than the average charge by health insurance companies. But I can tell you one thing I'm sure it will do. If we create a government insurance company, it's going to run a deficit. And it's only the taxpayers who are going to pay for it.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Still, New York Senator Charles Schumer and other Democrats insisted that, if anything, the public option needs to be strengthened.

  • SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER, D-N.Y.:

    So, you need to inject some competition into the insurance industry. The best way to do that is a public option. And the program that we have put together is set up by the government, but then it's on its own. There is no intent for it to compete unfairly against private insurance.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    On the other side of the aisle, Republican senators promised their all to kill the bill. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke Saturday night.

  • SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky.:

    We're going to do anything and everything we can to prevent this measure from becoming law.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Democrats like Dick Durbin of Illinois shot back, they want Republican help, but said they will go it alone if need be.

  • SEN. RICHARD DURBIN, D-Ill.:

    We are going to move forward. After Thanksgiving, everyone will have had a chance to take a close look at this bill on the Internet. And we can start this debate. I hope it will be a meaningful one and a positive one, not a filibuster-loaded debate, where we really don't get down to the basics.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The Senate is scheduled to begin debate on the health care bill next Monday.

    And now to help put that debate in context, we are joined by two former secretaries of health and human services. Donna Shalala served in the Clinton administration from 1993 to 2001. She is now president of the University of Miami and a professor of political science. And Michael Leavitt worked under President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2009. A former three-term governor of Utah, he is founder and chairman of his own consulting firm.

    Thank you, both, for joining us.

    Donna Shalala, to you first.

    Based on what you know now, do you believe that health care reform legislation is going to pass this year?

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