WASHINGTON – Overcoming a final procedural hurdle, Senate Democrats cleared the way for Christmas Eve passage of a landmark health-care bill that would provide coverage to more than 30 million people and begin a far-reaching overhaul of Medicare and the private insurance market.
Senate Democrats turned back the third and final Republican filibuster of the $871 billion package on a 60-39 vote that came late Wednesday afternoon. Lawmakers are scheduled to return to the Capitol at 7 a.m. today for one last roll call to pass the bill.
With the outcome all but certain, Democrats have come closer than ever to realizing their 70-year-old goal of near-universal health coverage. Difficult issues must be resolved in final negotiations with the House, and those talks could stretch through January and perhaps into February, Democratic leaders said. Yet party leaders were increasingly confident that President Barack Obama would be able to sign a bill into law in early 2010.
“Health care reform is not a matter of if,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters. “Health care reform now is a matter of when.”
“We stand on the doorstep of history,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said after the vote. But he declined to speculate about negotiations with the House.
“I’m not going to talk about conference. I’m talking about passing this bill,” he told reporters late Wednesday. For at least a few days after Christmas, Reid said, he would rest back home in Nevada. “I am going to just sit back and watch my rabbits eat my cactus,” he said.
Republicans fought the Senate bill with every parliamentary weapon they could muster, raising a series of motions on Wednesday afternoon that all failed along party lines.