Senate Democrats moved closer on Monday to passing landmark healthcare legislation by Christmas after scoring a win in the first big test vote and gaining the support of a powerful lobbying group for doctors.
AFP - President Barack Obama took aim Monday at critics who say the cash-strapped US Treasury cannot afford his health care overhaul, which seemed all but certain to pass the Senate by Christmas.
Obama also praised his 58 Democratic allies and their two independent cohorts for sealing "a big victory for the American people" in a dead-of-night vote that he said "knocked down" a Republican effort to doom the bill.
"The Senate has moved us closer to reform that makes a tremendous difference for families, for seniors, for businesses, and for the country as a whole," the president said in remarks at the White House.
He said his Republican foes' frequent charge that the measure will further inflate the ballooning US budget deficit, swelling the country's debt, "does not hold water."
Obama pointed to estimates from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which found the bill would reduce the deficit by 132 billion dollars over the first 10 years and as much as 1.3 trillion in the next 10.
Republicans have said that the CBO typically takes at face value assumptions in legislation it is asked to assess, and that the Congress will scrap some central but politically painful cost-cutting provisions in the bill.
The president's critics have also vowed to make their opposition to the measure a rallying cry in next year's political campaign ahead of mid-term elections in November.
"We have just begun to fight," Republican Senator John McCain, Obama's defeated rival for the White House in 2008, said in a speech just before the 1:18 am (0618 GMT) vote.
Obama has made the health care overhaul his top domestic priority, but his Democratic allies were divided about key aspects of it and the US public still seemed deeply skeptical about the effort.
A new public opinion poll released by CNN television found that 42 percent of those surveyed supported the Senate's version, up six points from earlier this month, but still well below the 56 percent who oppose it.
The Senate was on track to approve the legislation in a vote expected Christmas Eve, though Republicans could move it up if they relent in their insistence on hewing to procedures that are often waived by agreement.
Passage would set up tough negotiations for the Senate and the House of Representatives -- which approved its version of the bill on November 7 -- to craft a compromise version they could send to Obama to sign into law.
Democratic leaders hope to do so before his State of the Union speech in late January or early February.
Intra-party Democratic feuds were expected over tough new restrictions on federal monies going to subsidize abortions and the Senate's decision to strip out a government-backed "public option" to compete with private insurers.
Obama said the Senate bill would curb abuses by private insurers as well as "the inexorable and unsustainable rise in health care costs that are overwhelming families, businesses and the federal budget."
The United States is the world's richest nation but the only industrialized democracy that does not provide health care coverage to all of its citizens.
Washington spends more than double what Britain, France and Germany do per person on health care, but lags behind other countries in life expectancy and infant mortality, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Date created : 2009-12-22