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Senate to Dive Into Health Debate; House Punts on Appropriations Bill

The Senate returns from a weeklong break Monday to begin considering amendments to the $848 billion health care reform bill, kicking off a process that is expected to take up much of the month of December.Dozens of amendments will be considered over the next month, and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) must hold together all 60 members of the Democratic Conference in order to beat back politically harmful GOP amendments and ultimately clear the way for final passage.Reid successfully rallied his Democratic colleagues to vote in favor of bringing the bill to the floor in a rare Saturday night vote on Nov. 21. The party-line procedural vote was 60-39. Moderate Democratic Sens. Mary Landrieu (La.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.) all voted to proceed to the bill, but they pledged not to vote in favor of final passage if the bill includes a public insurance option. Reid’s package includes such a plan.While Members begin the amendment process to the health care bill this week, behind-the-scenes talks between Landrieu and Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) on an alternative public option will capture the attention of both moderates and liberals, who strongly support having a government-run alternative.The chamber is scheduled to briefly pivot from health care Tuesday to consider the nomination of Jacqueline Nguyen to be U.S. district judge for the Central District of California. While Reid has tried to clear a backlog of pending nominees, 40 nominations are lingering on the executive calendar. Of those, eight are judicial nominees.The House gavels in Tuesday for a quiet week of noncontroversial bills. The only legislation set for debate is an estate tax reform bill aimed at providing relief to farmers and small businesses.The fiscal 2010 Commerce, Justice and science spending bill is “not likely— to come up next week, according to a senior Democratic aide. Lawmakers from both parties have said privately the bill is ready for conference, but House leaders have not yet named conferees.Republicans say Democrats are stalling because they want to avoid a vote on whether to bar the transport of Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, prison detainees to New York for trial. Appointing conferees would open the door for Republicans to offer motions to instruct conferees on language to include in the bill. Although such motions are non-binding, Republicans could force vulnerable Democrats to go on record in support of bringing alleged terrorists onto U.S. soil.“A clear, bipartisan majority in the House has voted against President Obama’s plan to close the terrorist prison in Cuba without a plan for what to do with the dangerous killers held there,— said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). “Now that the president has announced he will bring 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and his cohorts to New York for a civilian trial just blocks from Ground Zero, the American people will be watching even more closely.—

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