WASHINGTON (CN) - The Senate voted late Saturday night to begin floor debate on Majority Leader Harry Reid's $848 billion health care bill. Voting along party lines, all 58 Democrats, with Independent Senators Joe Lieberman of
"Tonight's historic vote brings us one step closer to ending insurance company abuses, reining in spiraling health care costs, and extending quality health coverage to those who lack it," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in a released statement.
The narrow passage opens the bill to what is expected to be weeks of rowdy debate during markup on the floor.
The measure earned just enough votes to move forward, with 60 being the magic number in the Senate. Sixty votes are needed to bring the issue to the floor, to overcome a Republican filibuster and to end debate on the bill. Once debate on the bill is ended, however, only 51 votes are needed to pass it.
The vote follows two days of debate, where Democrats argued that the bill would save lives and beat back insurance company abuses, all while drawing down the deficit.
Republicans have said the 2,074- page bill would further burden the nation's finances and have characterized it as a massive government takeover of health care.
The Congressional Budget office has estimated that the bill would extend health coverage to 31 million more Americas, bringing the nation's insured to 94 percent and that it would cost $848 billion over the course of 10 years. Increases in taxes would cover the costs and ultimately reduce the deficit by $130 billion over 10 years.
The bill is more moderate than the House bill passed earlier this month, which would cost more than $1 trillion over ten years and extend insurance to 36 million more Americans, bringing the nation's insured to 96 percent. It would also lower the deficit by $104 billion over ten years, a smaller reduction than that under the Senate bill.
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