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 Connecticut and Vermont's Bernie Sanders, voted to bring the measure to the floor. Almost all 40 Republicans opposed the motion. One Republican, Sen. George Voinovich from Ohio, didn't vote.
"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 statement.
The narrow passage opens the 20,74-page 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 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 ends, only 51 votes are needed to pass it.
The vote followed two days of debate in which Democrats argued that the bill would save lives and beat back insurance company abuses, while reducing the deficit.
Republicans said the bill would further burden the nation's finances and characterized it as a massive government takeover of health care.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated the bill would extend health coverage to 31 million more Americas, covering 94 percent of Americans, and said it would cost $848 billion over 10 years. Increases in taxes are expected to 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 10 years and extend insurance to 36 million more Americans, covering 96 percent of the nation. It is predicted to reduce the deficit by $104 billion over 10 years, a smaller reduction than the Senate bill.
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