WASHINGTON (CNN) — The Senate Finance Committee passed a long-awaited $829 billion health care bill Tuesday by a 14-9 vote.
Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, was the lone committee member to cross party lines, breaking with other Republicans to vote for the measure. All the committee’s Democrats supported the bill.
The plan is projected to extend coverage to an additional 29 million Americans.
The vote represents a pivotal step forward in the contentious health care debate. The Finance Committee is the last of five congressional panels to consider health care legislation before debate begins in the full House of Representatives and Senate.
If the House and Senate both manage to pass health care overhaul bills, a conference committee then will negotiate a final version requiring approval from both chambers before going to President Obama for his signature.
The Senate Finance Committee’s bill would subsidize insurance for poorer Americans, establish nonprofit health care cooperatives and create health insurance exchanges to make it easier for small groups and individuals to buy insurance.
Among other things, it would cap annual out-of-pocket expenses and prevent insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.
The plan is financed by a combination of reductions in spending for Medicare and other government programs as well as higher taxes on expensive insurance policies and new fees on the health industry.
“Ours is a balanced plan,” said committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Montana. “Now is the time that will tell whether things are merely said, or whether something is actually done. Now is the time to get this done.”
Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the committee’s top Republican, said he wished he “felt better about the substance of the bill,” which is “moving on a slippery slope to more and more government control of health care.”
Snowe, part of the so-called Gang of Six who initially negotiated the committee’s bill, was considered one of the few GOP senators likely to support a bill emerging from the Democratic-controlled Congress.
Snowe indicated she has concerns with aspects of the bill but said she didn’t want to see the reform process derailed.
“Is this bill all that I would want? Far from it,” she said. “Is it all that it can be? No. But when history calls, history calls. And I happen to think that the consequences of inaction dictate the urgency of Congress [taking] every opportunity to demonstrate its capacity to solve the monumental issues of our time.”