Exhausted Senators Pass Health Care Reform

Senators couldn’t wait to skip town after the long-delayed passage of health care reform legislation this morning, and high on their vacation agendas–up there with celebrating the holidays, and visiting with families–will no doubt be sleep.

A tired Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) set the tone for the event, which vacillated between solemn and lighthearted. When the clerk called out his name, Byrd broke with protocol. Instead of calling out his vote, Byrd shouted “Mr. President, this is for my friend, Ted Kennedy. Aye.”

In one of two moments of levity during this morning’s vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid accidentally voted against his own legislation. Once the laughter died, he changed his inadvertent “no” to a “yes.” After the vote, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) joked “The leader has succumbed to fatigue.”As the vote came to a close, the gallery and the floor hushed in anticipation of a missing Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Was the chamber’s only socialist so disappointed in the bill that he’d decided not to vote out of protest? Actually no. When he finally stumbled in at the last moment, harried and rushed, Democrats cheered and smiled. (Sanders voted yes).

The viewing gallery was filled with a mix of tourists and health care reform veterans including Vicki Kennedy, White House health reform czar Nancy-Ann DeParle, and unexpected visitor Rep. John Dingell (D-MI).

The longest serving member of the House, and champion of health reform, is spending the holidays in Washington and woke up early to watch the historic proceedings. Though in seemingly good spirits, he charted a difficult road ahead for Democrats.

“The House members are divided rather like the Senate members are,” Dingell told reporters. “The liberal members are concerned about the fact that we don’t have the public option, and that’s a serious problem.”

“It’s pretty clear to me, and I think it’s pretty clear to all of you, that nobody’s going to be happy with this,” Dingell went on. “There’s going to be a lot of suprises, some of them unpleasent, and we’re going to have to start on doing two things, One is setting up the administration, the other is perfecting the legislation as it proceeds.”

Democratic leaders and health care principals addressed the media after the vote, but only briefly, and without taking questions.

Reid joked of his flubbed vote “I spent a very restless night last night trying to figure out how I can show some bipartisanship.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), exhausted himself, referred to the architects of the legislation–Reid, along with Sens. Max Baucus (D-MT) and Chris Dodd (D-CT)–in eschatological terms as “the three horsemen of this bill.” Horsemen? Maybe wisemen.

But he caught himself. “This is an amazing accomplishment,” Schumer said. “It’s going to become more and more popular.”