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Senate Gears Up for Showdown Over Health Reform Bill

The Senate on Thursday inched closer to debating Majority Leader Harry Reid's $848 billion health care reform bill, despite stiff GOP resistance. After a report from Betty Ann Bowser, Susan Dentzer explains the details.

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    The Senate geared up today for the real battle over health care reform. Democratic leaders hoped to get their new bill to the floor nearly 10 months after the process began.

    "NewsHour" health correspondent Betty Ann Bowser has our lead story report.

  • SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev.:

    No one can ever remember a bill that affects everybody in America, as this bill does.


    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and fellow Democrats edged closer today to moving a 2,000-page health care reform bill to the floor for debate.


    We all acknowledge this legislation is a tremendous step forward.


    Reid unveiled the legislation last night, with final cost estimates from the Congressional Budget Office. The CBO put the price tag at $848 billion over 10 years, and said 94 percent of Americans would be covered, starting in 2014. That includes 31 million who are currently uninsured.


    The finish line is in sight. I'm confident we will cross it soon. And I'm once again inviting my Republican colleagues to join us on the right side of history.


    But Senate Republicans remained opposed today to much of what the Democratic bill would do.

  • Minority Leader Mitch McConnell:


    Mr. President, for months, we have been warning the American people of the Democrats' plans to raise premiums, raise taxes, and slash Medicare in order to fund more government. Americans know that is not reform. And, unfortunately, the majority hasn't been listening.

    While two committees have publicly reported legislation, the bill we're being asked to consider was assembled behind closed doors, out of sight, without input from the public, for over six years — for over the last six weeks. We're being told we must rush to pass this legislation.


    Unlike an earlier Senate Finance Committee plan, this bill includes a government-run health insurance option, but it also allows states to opt out, if they wish.

    It mandates that most Americans buy health insurance, or pay a penalty, but there is no mandate for employers to provide insurance. And it allows those with no insurance to shop for coverage on a new exchange.

    To take the bill to the floor, Reid needs 60 votes. He's hoping new deficit reduction numbers from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, $130 billion over 10 years, will sway party moderates worried about federal spending.

    To get those deficit savings, the bill would cut hundreds of billions of dollars in future Medicare spending, and impose new taxes, including a levy on expensive insurance plans. There's also a planned increase in the Medicare payroll tax on individuals who make more than $200,000 a year and couples earning more than $250,000.

    In at least one case, the formula seemed be working today. Nebraska moderate Ben Nelson sounded more positive when we caught up with him at a hearing today.

  • SEN. BEN NELSON, D-Neb.:

    The impact on the deficit is improved. In other words, it shouldn't add as much — it shouldn't add anything to the deficit, but help the deficit over a 10-year period, if those numbers are accurate. That certainly is an improvement over the House bill.


    Connecticut independent Joe Lieberman's vote is another one Reid wants. Today, Lieberman said he will no longer try to block the bill from going to the floor for debate, but he still opposes the public option.


    I'm worried that it will raise taxes or send us even deeper into debt. That's what history shows us about government-run insurance programs. So, we have got a lot of work to do. But I think Senator Reid got us off to a good start. It's going to be an important debate.


    Republicans characterized the Reid bill as a government takeover of health care.

    And Tennessee's Bob Corker said, it shapes up as a colossal disaster.

  • SEN. BOB CORKER, R-Tenn.:

    And the building blocks of this bill are just fundamentally wrong. You have got unfunded mandates to states. You have got mandates in here that actually drive private insurance premiums up, not down — drive them up.


    The bill also limits the use of federal money to cover abortions, but it is not as restrictive as what the House approved. And, already, abortion opponents have condemned the Senate version.

    Still, Reid appeared upbeat today.


    We reach out to our Republican colleagues, and we would like to work with them. But everyone should understand, we're going to do a bill. We hope that we don't have to do it with Democrats. But, if we have to, we will.


    The majority leader said a crucial procedural vote to allow debate to begin could come as early as Saturday.

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