After months of sometimes bitter wrangling, the US Senate Finance Committee yesterday approved the health reform bill drawn up by its chairman, Senator Max Baucus, with a 14-9 majority.

All Democrats on the Committee voted in favour of the bill, as did one Republican, Olympia Snowe, making her the first member of her party in Congress to back the proposals.

However, she warned that she had voted for the bill because the consequences of not keeping the legislation moving ahead were too grave, for both uninsured Americans and the health care industries. “There are many, many miles to go in this legislative journey,” she said. “My vote today is my vote today. It doesn’t forecast what it will be tomorrow.”

The bill - which will now go through a compromise process with the bill approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labour and Pensions (HELP) Committee in July before receiving a full vote on the Senate floor - puts forward plans to cut US health costs by $829 billion over a 10-year period. It more closely resembles President Barack Obama’s vision of health reform than any other bill put forward in either the House or the Senate, but it is also the only one not to include a government-run health insurance scheme – the “public option” which is opposed by the pharmaceutical industry.

Last week, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) published a new analysis which estimated that the Baucus bill would produce a net reduction in federal budget deficits of $81 billion over 2010-2019.

The Finance panel is the last of five Congressional committees to put forward health reform proposals, and Pres Obama applauded the vote as a “critical milestone. We are closer than ever before to passing healthcare reform but we are not there yet,” he said.

Also welcoming the vote was Billy Tauzin, chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), who described the Finance panel’s proposal as the best blueprint for comprehensive health reform. “Chairman Baucus has tirelessly shepherded one of the most important pieces of legislation in our lifetime and deserves a lot of credit for reaching out to members on both sides of the aisle,” he said.

- Senator Olympia Snowe, the only Republican so far to support health reform proposals, has received far less in the way of donations from pharmaceutical and health product companies than her Republican colleagues on the Senate Finance Committee, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Since 1989, they have each received an average of $466,100 from the industry, compared with an average for the Democrat members of $360,200, while Sen Snowe has received just under $102,000, it reports.