Senate Committee Advances Health Care Bill to Full Congress

The Senate Finance Committee passed its version of the health care bill Tuesday, formally opening the door for the legislation to be debated in the full House and Senate.

With a 14-9 vote, including support from Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), the last of five congressional panels approved a health care reform bill.

The finance committee's bill is estimated to cost $829 billion and would extend coverage to an additional 29 million Americans. It would subsidize insurance for poorer Americans and cap annual out-of-pocket expenses, according to CNN. It does not include the contentious public option.

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To finance the plan, about a $400 billion reduction in spending would apply to several health care programs, including Medicare. Another $200 billion would come from new tax on high-end health care policies.

Sen. Snowe, the only Republican to vote in favor of the bill, said the measure is "far from" what she wants it to be, but that Congress should take steps to solve the "monumental" problem of our time.

The bill is "a good place to start," Snowe commented Wednesday on ABC's "Good Morning America."

But conservative groups have criticized the plan, claiming that it includes hidden taxes that would be imposed on the lower and middle class.

In its newsletter Tuesday, the Family Research Council cited a commentary in Bloomberg News that contends individuals making less than $200,000 a year would be covering 87 percent of Sen. Max Baucus' bill. Baucus is the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

And on Monday, conservative organizations representing over 30 million people restated their opposition to health care reform that funds abortion, violates conscience, rations care or limits freedom.

The organizations – which include Liberty Counsel, Charisma Magazine, the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and Teen Mania – highlighted their strong opposition to federal funding of abortion, which they believe is covered by the current health care bills. They also voiced strong opposition to expanding the federal government's control over the health care system.

"We believe social justice includes health care reform that lowers the cost, increases quality, and expands choice at the greatest convenience, without moving private health decisions from the doctor's office to Washington bureaucrats," said Mathew Staver, chairman of Liberty Counsel and the coalition's coordinator.

In Washington, members of Congress now have the difficult task of reconciling the different versions of the health care reform bill and then presenting them to the House and Senate to be debated.

"We are now closer than ever before to passing health reform, but we're not there yet," said President Obama in the White House Rose Garden. "Now's not the time to pat ourselves on the back."

Obama, who has made health care reform his top domestic priority, said it is time to "dig in" and work harder to get the task done.

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