from NBC's Athena Jones
President Obama thanked the Senate Finance Committee for passing its version of a health care bill, saying it went a long way towards meeting his goals of making health insurance more affordable for those who don't have it and more secure for those who do.
He thanked Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), the committee's chairman, its members, and especially Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, who was the only Republican to vote "yes" -- along with the all of the committee's Democrats -- to pass the bill 14-9.
"I want to particularly thank Senator Olympia Snowe for both the political courage and the seriousness of purpose she's demonstrated throughout this process," Obama said.
The Finance Committee bill must still be merged with the bill passed out of the Health Committee over the summer before the full Senate can vote on a final bill. The House will also have to merge its three versions and vote on a final bill and then the House and Senate bills must be reconciled, so a health care bill is still probably several weeks away, though the White House hopes to have one on the president's desk before Congress leaves this year.
The president acknowledged there was still a lot of work to be done to pass a health care overhaul.
"We are now closer than ever before to passing health reform, but we're not there yet," he said. "Now's not the time to pat ourselves on the back. now's not the time to offer ourselves congratulations, now is the time to dig in and work even harder to get this done."
The main difference between the Senate Finance Committee bill and the Health Committee's bill is that the latter contains the so-called public option. The White House has repeatedly dodged questions about whether the president, who has said he would prefer a bill with the public option, would sign one without it.