Democrats Elated, Relieved After Pushing Health Care Reform Forward

December 20, 2009 9:09 p.m.

“The die is cast. It’s done,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), moments after 60 Democrats signaled, with a single procedural vote, that they will stick together to pass health care reform.

As the clerk read the final tally aloud in the Senate chamber, Democrats, seated at their desks, muffled all of their emotions–enthusiasm, anxiety, relief. Sitting at his desk Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) clutched Sen. Roland Burris (D-IL) and Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-DE)–his colleague on either side–by the arms. Members smiled and softly pumped their fists, but in accordance with the rules, the floor was mostly silent.

In the reception room just outside the chamber, Sen. Ted Kennedy’s widow Vicki embraced Sens. Chris Dodd (D-CT) and John Kerry (D-MA). Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, standing alone in the corner of the room, shouted a hearty congratulations to Dodd.

“Harry’s going to almost have a drink,” Schumer joked about the Mormon majority leader.Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Ben Nelson (D-NE)–two of the final hold outs–reminded reporters that they’d oppose the bill that emerges from negotiations with the House if the language changes dramatically, entrenching the conventional wisdom that the House will have to accept a final bill that’s significantly less progressive than the bill they passed this fall.

“I’m afraid that a splitting of the differences here will not work,” Lieberman said. “It took a lot of work to bring this 60 together, and this 60 is delicately balanced.”

But, crucially, even Nelson speaks of the bill before the Senate now as if it’s already been passed.

“The next step, of course, will be to see what happens with the conference,” Nelson said.

A disappointed Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) had harsh words for Democrats, who, nearly a year after the legislative process kicked off, she says are rushing this bill to passage. But, interestingly, she did not rule out contributing to, and ultimately voting for, the conference package.

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