Members of the U.S. Senate are bracing for a difficult debate on health-care reform, following an unusual Saturday vote that cleared the way for consideration of the necessary legislation. It is a debate that could have a big impact on next year's congressional election.
With an eye to the 2010 election, senators are lining up on all sides of the health-care debate.
Democrats drafted the legislation now before the Senate, and while some party members want to see significant changes, all voted to proceed with debate.
Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin calls the vote an amazing victory for President Barack Obama and the party leadership. But during an appearance on the NBC television program Meet the Press, he said it is only a beginning. "This senate should not avoid this debate. I hope in the end some Republicans will cross over and help us to put together a good bill that will serve this nation," he said.
But Republicans are unified in opposition, saying voters are worried about the cost of reform and fear a possible government takeover of health care.
Oklahoma's Tom Coburn told ABC's This Week the bill will not fix what is wrong with the American health-care system. "We are treating symptoms, not the disease. And it is really malpractice what we are doing," he said.
Unlike all other developed countries, there is no comprehensive national health-care program in the United States. The government subsidizes coverage for the poor and the elderly, but most Americans rely on private insurance, which is usually provided by employers.
Senator Diane Feinstein - a California Democrat - told Meet the Press affordability and accessibility of care is restricted under the current system. She said Washington must step in. "America is in (has) serious problems with respect to health care. Virtually every other developed country has a better system than we do. Ours is costly, in places it is ineffective, it is deeply troubled," she said.
Republicans agree that some sort of reform is needed. But they say the Democrats are trying to do too much, too fast.
Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona told CBS's Face the Nation, that the American people deserve to know all the details. "The reality is this is a huge issue facing every American, and we do need to do it right. And the object is not to delay for delay's sake, but to have an opportunity for everyone to see what is in it and to know how much it costs and know how it is going to impact their lives," he said.
After the late Saturday vote, senators headed home for a week-long Thanksgiving holiday break. Debate on the health-care reform measure will begin when they return, with the goal of completing work on the Senate version of health care reform by the end of December.