HELP IS ON THE MOVE…. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) couldn’t be there, but his committee nevertheless held a milestone vote this morning.

The Senate health committee has passed legislation to revamp health care, becoming the first congressional committee to act on President Barack Obama’s goal of overhauling the system this year.

The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee voted 13-10 along party lines to pass a $600-billion measure that would expand coverage to nearly all Americans by requiring individuals get insurance and employers to contribute to the cost. The bill would provide federal aid to families and individuals making less than four times the poverty level, or about $88,000 for a family of four.

It’s an encouraging step in the right direction — Senate committees do not pass health care reform bills very often — but there are some serious challenges coming up. The HELP bill will eventually be merged with the Senate Finance Committee’s bill, which will be less heartening.

Nevertheless, as Jonathan Cohn noted yesterday, HELP has put together a good bill.

[T]he HELP bill will have subsidies and benefits good enough to make sure most Americans have solid insurance–and that most Americans who want insurance can get it, regardless of their medical conditions. The HELP bill will also have a public plan. That would significantly improve life for the uninsured and underinsured, a group that includes a lot of middle class Americans with supposedly decent coverage. And that’s just the top line.

The HELP bill … will have established a marker that should pull the final plan in the direction of more generosity, more comprehensive coverage, and stronger regulation of insurance.

Update: The White House loves the HELP bill.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.