TPM News

This morning, after a year-long fight with Republicans, and a weeks-long debate, which ultimately pitted Democrat against Democrat, and liberal against liberal, the Senate passed a historic bill calling for major reforms of the U.S. health care system by a vote of 60-39.

Presiding over the Senate, in a rare appearance, was Vice President Joe Biden. As Senate chair, the Vice President can serve as the tie-breaking vote in the event of a 50-50 deadlock. But tonight's victory for Democrats was never in doubt.

Over the course of this week, Democrats have passed several test votes--set at a 60-member, supermajority threshold. The only question this morning was, would they keep all of their members united for the final vote.

In the end they did.

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To a nearly empty House of Representatives this afternoon, a House staffer slowly and methodically stripped Rep. Parker Griffith (R-AL) of his committee assignments. Griffith's switch from the Democratic party to the GOP yesterday meant he lost his Democratically-assigned seats on the Science and Technology, Small Business and Transportation and Infrastructure. Now it's up to to his new party to assign him new committee seats.

After the jump, the video of the committee stripping from C-SPAN today.

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There's growing sentiment on the left--most recently evinced by SEIU President Andy Stern and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman--that the Senate's quiet acceptance of the filibuster--and therefore a 60 vote threshold for most legislation--is dangerous to the country's ability to govern itself, no matter who's in power. Well, they may have a powerful new ally.

"[A]s somebody who served in the Senate, who values the traditions of the Senate, who thinks that institution has been the world's greatest deliberative body, to see the filibuster rule, which imposes a 60-vote supermajority on legislation - to see that invoked on every single piece of legislation, during the course of this year, is unheard of," says President Obama in a yet-to-air interview with PBS.

I mean, if you look historically back in the '50s, the '60s, the '70s, the '80s - even when there was sharp political disagreements, when the Democrats were in control for example and Ronald Reagan was president - you didn't see even routine items subject to the 60-vote rule.

So I think that if this pattern continues, you're going to see an inability on the part of America to deal with big problems in a very competitive world, and other countries are going to start running circles around us. We're going to have to return to some sense that governance is more important than politics inside the Senate. We're not there right now.

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Some Democrats are popping champagne and already writing campaign talking points for how to champion a health care bill they believe President Obama will sign early next year, but today several progressives pulled on the fragile agreement's thread.

Obama is suggesting they can get right to work and said his White House will remain involved after the final passage of the Senate bill tomorrow, and leaders were hoping for a speedy agreement.

There's no hard evidence they'll be denied that victory and TPMDC sources have been saying all week they are tired of Democrats litigating the merits of health care in the press.

House leadership is confident their liberal members may complain loudly but will back the final compromise even if it doesn't change from the more conservative Senate version.

Some of the rumblings from progressives about holding out on the bill are both predictable and toothless, but today House Rules Chairman Louise Slaughter (D-NY) wrote in a CNN op-ed that she thinks the process should begin anew.

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In a gesture that's likely to bring a smile to Harry Reid's face, many of the country's leading health care economists have signed a letter applauding the Majority Leader, and noting that his manager's amendment to the Senate health care bill, adopted this week, makes the legislation more fiscally sustainable.

And, as an added bonus, it comes just as Republicans are ramping up their critique of the reform package on fiscal responsibility grounds.

You can read the entire letter here.

In an interview today with PBS, President Obama said he plans to begin working on merging the Senate and House health care bills before Congress returns from Christmas recess.

"We hope to have a whole bunch of folks over here in the West Wing, and I'll be rolling up my sleeves and spending some time before the full Congress even gets into session," Obama said, "because the American people need it now."

Obama is expected to work with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to merge the bills.

"I intend to work as hard as I have to work, especially after coming this far over the course of the year, to make sure that we finally close the deal," Obama said.

The House returns Jan. 12, and the Senate returns Jan. 18.

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Despite all the talk about the GOP being on the rise -- and their activist base certainly does seems to be more fired up and ready to go, at this juncture -- a new CNN poll suggests that a key fundamental measurement is still on the Democrats' side: The public at large thinks their policies are good, and also thinks the GOP's policies are bad.

The survey of American adults asked: "Do you think the policies being proposed by the Democratic leaders in the U.S. House and Senate would move the country in the right direction or the wrong direction?" The answer is 51% right direction, 46% wrong direction, with a ±3% margin of error.

The same question asked about the policies being proposed by Republican leaders in the House and Senate: Right direction 42%, wrong direction 53%.

A key internal number is that majorities of independents view both parties' policies as leading in the wrong direction -- 57% for the Dems, 52% for the Republicans.

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President Obama today gave an interview with Jim Lehrer, the host of NewsHour on PBS. Here is the full transcript, as released by NewsHour. Below the transcript is video of the interview:

MR. LEHRER: Mr. President, welcome.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you so much for having me.

MR. LEHRER: So you are completely satisfied with the health-reform bill that the Senate's about to pass?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know, I am never completely satisfied. But I am very satisfied. Look, when I made that speech in the joint session of Congress, I set out some criteria for what in my mind would qualify as reform, based on the conversations that I had with families all across the country and the letters that I was receiving about people really going through a tough time in the health-care system.

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As soon as the Senate passes its health care bill tomorrow, members will race to get out of town, and begin a long overdue recess. At some point after they return, though, they'll have to hold...yet more health care votes!

The House and Senate bills will be merged in a negotiating process that will begin shortly after tomorrow's passage, so that each chamber can vote on an identical piece of legislation. Originally, party leaders wanted to wrap things up before President Obama's State of the Union address at the end of January. But right now, some Democrats, including Democrats within the White House, differ on when that final vote will take place.

On the Hill, it's no different.

"We're going to get this done," said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), who will partake in neogtiations, "and I predict we'll get it done before the end of January."

"Now a lot of work is going to be done between now and then," Harkin went on.

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Republicans are going fishing for more party-switching House Democrats, the Politico reports -- with the latest target being second-term Pennsylvania Rep. Chris Carney, who received a phone call from Sen. John McCain himself.

Senate Republicans are also reportedly receiving a list of party-switching targets in the House.

"I just said, 'Whatever you do, I know that you'll make right decision for the country,'" said McCain. Carney is also being courted to switch by Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Bill Shuster. Carney was elected in 2006 by a 53%-47%, defeating a scandal-plagued Republican incumbent. He was re-elected by 56%-44% in 2008, at the same time as McCain carried his district by 54%-45%.

If someone were sitting down and making a list of obvious targets in the Democratic caucus that Republicans could court, Carney wouldn't be at the top of it. He voted for the House health care bill this past November, which surely wouldn't endear him to the conservative GOP activist base. However, a House Republican told the site that they'd gotten "a nibble" from Carney, whatever that means. Politico also reports: "A source familiar with the call [with McCain] said that Republicans thought Carney may be susceptible to McCain's entreaty because, like the senator, the 50-year old House member served in the Navy."

A Navy background makes for a Democrat becoming a Republican? How about they try Admiral Joe Sestak next?