December 24, 2009 in Nation/World

Health care bill vote today

Senate expected to OK historic reform measure
Shailagh Murray Washington Post
Associated Press photo

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, accompanied by Senate Democrats, accepts congratulations from Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, during a news conference on health care on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.
(Full-size photo)

Bills must still be reconciled

 Democrats hope to finish work on health care legislation work in time for President Barack Obama’s first State of the Union address in late January or early February. After the expected Senate passage of its version of the measure today, the two chambers will begin work on reconciling their bills

 House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid plan to talk next week about how to move forward, with the most likely course being informal negotiations rather than a formal conference committee.

 Negotiators from both chambers could rewrite the Senate bill and send it to the House for a vote. The Senate then would give it final approval. Pelosi has asked key House chairman to return to Washington the first week in January to launch that effort, with the full House due back a week later. The Senate is out until Jan. 19, leaving little time to push through a final bill.

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.

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