Shortly after 7 a.m. this morning, with Vice President Joe Biden presiding, the Senate passed the health care bill by a 60 to 39 margin.
The vote was largely a formality, because Democrats already gained the 60 votes to invoke cloture and only needed a simply majority this morning. While there was some talk of a few Democrats defecting on the final vote when they were no longer needed, ultimately, the caucus stuck together — as did Republicans. Sen. Jim Bunning was the only absent Senator.
“This is for my friend Ted Kennedy, aye” the 92-year old Sen. Robert Byrd said when he voted, according to Mike Madden.
Sen. Arlen Specter, who became the 60th vote for Democrats when he effectively switched parties earlier this year, tweeted a similar sentiment: “With the passion of Ted Kennedy on our hearts. Aye.”
Shortly after voting on the health care bill, the Senate voted by a 60 to 39 margin to raise the federal debt limit by $290 billion to $12.4 trillion. How apropos.
With the health care bill having passed the Senate, it will have to be reconciled with the version that passed the House, and a number of obstacles still remain. Among other differences, the House bill has a public option and stronger abortion language. Given that Speaker Nancy Pelosi only had 3 votes to spare when the House passed the bill the first time around by a 220 to 215 margin, she’ll have some work to do. Rep. Bart Stupak and a handful of others who voted for the bill the first time have said they couldn’t without his abortion language, while a few more liberal members have lamented the lack of a public option. And whatever is negotiated to win approval in the House cannot upset the delicate balance that enabled Reid to achieve 60 votes in the Senate. At this point, however, the smart money would have to be on Democrats doing whatever they need to do to get this across the finish line.