WASHINGTON— In the wee hours of a snowbound Monday morning the U.S. Senate voted 60 to 40 to terminate debate and move toward a final vote on health care reform legislation before they adjourn for Christmas.
All 58 Democrats and the Senate's two independents joined in voting for the cloture motion while the Republicans were unanimous in voting no. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell could barely contain his rage denouncing the massive bill as a "legislative train wreck" that the Democrats were railroading through while people's minds were occupied with the holidays.
But just before the vote, Iowa Senator Tom Harkin told his colleagues, "Today we are closer than we've ever been to making Sen. Ted Kennedy's dream of universal health insurance coverage a reality." He urged the senators to "vote your hopes, not your fears. Seize the moment."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, told reporters at a briefing in the Capitol that "This bill will do so many good things for so many people," and cited a letter he received from a grieving parent last week that his 26 year old son has developed Addison's Disease because he did not have insurance to cover treatment of his diabetes.
"This broken system cannot continue and will not continue," Reid said. He also acknowledged the bitter disappointment of millions that the Senate bill does not contain a public option which he had strongly supported.
But the broad labor-led movement for basic health care reform was not resting on its laurels.
Labor-supported health reform groups like Health Care for America Now said the House-Senate conference presents "an opportunity" to stand up for a public insurance option and other measures that could strengthen the bill.
Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said her organization, together with other defenders of women's equality, will fight to delete the Nelson amendment before the final Senate vote and will also fight the Stupak-Pitts anti-abortion rider in the House version when the House-Senate conferees meet to reconcile the two bills.
Likewise, the National Immigration Law Center demanded that the Senate bill include an amendment by Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey that "helps restore fairness to our health care system" by removing a harsh five year waiting period before legal immigrants are eligible for Medicaid coverage.
Left-wing groups like the Communist Party USA also urged its members to stay engaged. In its recent action e-mail, "Health Care: The Time for United Push is NOW!" the CPUSA said, "Don't be fooled by rumors and news clips that the health care fight is over. Once the Senate votes on the bill, it goes to a conference committee along with the bill the House-passed earlier." And the Senate bill could be improved, the memo said.
The memo calls for an all-out mobilization to demand that the House-Senate conferees approve "a bill that is affordable, covers everyone, regulates the insurance companies and taxes the wealthy, not individuals with health care benefits."
The aim, the memo says, must "up the ante and make our voices heard with phone calls, letters and public statements from community health centers, from worksites, from neighborhood gatherings, from schools" delivered to both Congress and the White House "to counter the high financed blitz by insurance and the pharma corporations."
It urges special efforts to mobilize in defense of women and oppressed racial and national minorities who have suffered double exploitation at the hands of the insurance monopolies. The health care movement is demanding removal of language that imposes repressive curbs on abortion rights. Support for the public option and universal coverage "must be more and more united and visible to get the strongest bill passed," the statement continues.
It adds, "What happens in this fight sets the stage for the 2010 elections and the huge battle to shift the balance of forces more toward working people, creating the conditions to improve what is won now."