The Senate has passed an $871 billion health care reform bill.
Senators voted 60-39 shortly after 7 a.m. to pass the bill, the centerpiece of President Obama‘s domestic agenda. Every member of the Democratic caucus backed the measure; every Republican opposed it.
The bill now moves to a conference committee to reconcile differences with the version passed by the House of Representatives.
The Senate health care bill cleared a third and final procedural hurdle Wednesday as Democrats successfully limited remaining debate time on the $871 billion measure.
That vote, also 60-39 along party lines, set up Thursday’s vote on final passage.
Democrats also turned back last-ditch motions from Republicans claiming various provisions in the bill, including a mandate that individuals purchase coverage, are unconstitutional.
“It’s long past time we declare health care a right and not a privilege,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said after Wednesday’s vote.
“Today is a victory … for American families,” proclaimed Sen. Max Baucus, D-Montana. “Americans won.”
The victory for Obama comes after nearly a year of sharply polarized deliberations on Capitol Hill. Any measure passed by the Senate, however, will still have to be merged with a $1 trillion plan approved by the House of Representatives in November.
Increasingly confident Democrats hope to have a bill ready for Obama’s signature before his State of the Union address early next year.
“Health care reform is not a matter of if,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday. “Health care reform now is a matter of when.”
If a combined House-Senate health care bill clears Congress and is signed by Obama, it would be the biggest expansion of federal health care guarantees since the enactment of Medicare and Medicaid over four decades ago according to CNN.