Amidst a DC blizzard Senators arrived for a cloture vote that began at 1:01am EST to determine whether or not to end the debate on major amendments for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The result was a 60-40 party-line vote.
Bitter words were on the lips of Senators on both sides of the aisle. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) implored that at least one Democrat vote against cloture, but his pleas were unheeded. “People have to show up, and people have to vote. At least three more times,” he told reporters. This “is not over, by any stretch.”
“If the Republicans want to exercise every single right they have under the rules, they can keep us here until Christmas Eve, no doubt about it,” said Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA). “But to what end, I ask? To what end? We’re going to have the vote at 1 a.m. that requires 60 votes, and then why stay here until Christmas Eve to do what they know we’re going to do?”
The votes were made via the formality of each Senator standing at their desk and casting their vote at the request of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).
Despite the lateness of the hour Victoria Kennedy, widow of the late Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), attended along with Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina, and the director of the White House Office of Health Reform Nancy-Ann DeParle.
Victoria Kennedy recently wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post in which she expressed her support for the bill and made known that her late husband would have voted in favor of it. After the vote Kennedy was embraced by many of the Senators who greeted her with warm words. “Without him, it never would have happened,” Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) told her. “He’s smiling tonight,” Victoria Kennedy told Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT). “This is a big step. You’ve made history.”
“The historic moment before us is the easiest choice and perhaps the most historic vote we may ever cast as United States senators,” said Senator Paul Kirk (D-MA) who was named the late Senator Kennedy’s successor. “Is this a bill of real reform that Ted Kennedy would champion and vote for? Absolutely, yes. Ted Kennedy knew real reform when he saw it, and so do I.”
The bill received a further endorsement from the White House via an op-ed authored by Vice President Joe Biden in the New York Times. “While it is not perfect, the bill pending in the Senate today is not just good enough — it is very good,” wrote the Vice President.
The procedural vote was the first of three before the bill comes before the Senate at 7:00pm EST Christmas Eve. If it should pass it would then be brought before a conference committee in the hopes of reconciling the differences between the House bill and the Senate bill.
The next vote will be whether or not to include the compromise language in the bill on Tuesday. Wednesday’s vote will determine if the debate about the actual bill will come to a close. Further information about the procedures and formalities can be found at Bloomberg.com.