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Reid Sets Up the Health Care Reform Endgame

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) filed a series of cloture motions Saturday afternoon to push the health care reform bill toward passage by Christmas Eve.

The move came after Senate clerks read Reid’s 380-page manager’s amendment — a series of compromises to the leader’s original bill — for more than seven hours to a nearly empty chamber. Republicans, who said they wanted to learn what was in the package, demanded the reading as part of their strategy to bring the legislative process to a crawl.

Reid also employed a procedural maneuver known as filling the amendment tree on Saturday, effectively cutting off opportunity to offer amendments to the health care bill. He announced the Senate would convene at 1 p.m. Sunday to continue debate on the health care bill and adjourn at 11:30 p.m. that evening to end the legislative day. The Senate is likely to cast its next vote at 1 a.m. Monday to invoke cloture on the manager’s amendment.

A second procedural vote would likely occur at 7 a.m. Tuesday, with the third and final cloture vote scheduled around 1 p.m. Wednesday. All three cloture motions must meet a 60-vote threshold.

While the chamber is on track for a Christmas Eve vote on final passage, Democratic leadership aides said they remain concerned Republicans will find creative ways to slow the process, such as live quorum calls or other stalling tactics.

Reid’s cloture motions capped a long day on Capitol Hill that started with a 7:20 a.m. vote on the Defense appropriations bill.

As part of his deal to secure the vote of Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) — the last holdout in Reid’s Conference — Democrats included new abortion funding restrictions in the bill. Under the agreement, states would be allowed to opt out of insurance plans that cover abortions, and the “state exchanges— would be required to include at least one plan that does not cover abortions.

Enrollees using plans that do cover the procedure would pay for their insurance using two separate checks — one to cover abortions and a second for the rest of their insurance.

Reid also gave Nelson a number of other sweeteners, most notably a provision permanently requiring the federal government to pick up the entire Medicaid tab for the state of Nebraska.

Reid made a number of other changes to the final bill. According to Democratic aides, Reid’s latest version of the bill includes deficit reductions of $130 billion in the first 10 years after enactment and an additional $650 billion in the second 10 years, while expanding insurance coverage to 94 percent of Americans under the age of 65.

The bill also includes new tax provisions, including $12 billion in small business tax cuts beginning in 2010, the expansion of the adoption tax credit program and a new tax on tanning salons. According to one aide, the new tanning tax was included because “the use of these tanning beds creates a health concern in terms of cancer.—

The bill extends the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and ensures that foster children have insurance coverage through the age of 26, among other provisions.

Democrats hailed the compromise as a major step forward while Republicans denounced it as a government takeover of health care, and both parties spent much of the day speaking more to their bases than anyone else.

Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) sought to ease the concerns of liberals, saying the legislation is “not the end of health care reform, it’s the beginning of health care reform.—

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) vowed to continue to stall the bill and called it “an absolute outrage that’s being perpetrated on the American people.—

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