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Senate Begins Sunday Debate

With 60 Democratic votes now in hand for his $871 billion health care reform package, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is scheduled to bring the Senate to order Sunday afternoon to continue the debate in advance of a scheduled 1 a.m. Monday cloture vote on the manager’s amendment.The middle-of-the-night vote will be the first test of Reid’s coalition, as the Majority Leader eyes a Christmas Eve night vote for final passage. As Senators continue the pro forma debate on the Senate floor, the battle for public opinion — about the only thing going the Republicans’ way in the battle over Reid’s reform bill — will continue with dueling news conferences.Democratic Sens. Tom Carper (Del.) and Al Franken (Minn.) are scheduled to hold a conference call with reporters at 2 p.m. to tout the merits of the Democratic bill, which secured its 60th vote Saturday when moderate Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) announced he would support the package. The Republicans also are planning a 2 p.m. event.With Reid finally unveiling the changes to the original health care bill Saturday and getting a sign off from all Members of the Democratic Conference, it would appear that nothing is left to occur but the voting. Cloture votes on the substitute amendment and the underlying bill are tentatively set for Tuesday morning and Wednesday evening, respectively.But the Republicans — who remain unanimously opposed to the package — could possibly attempt to delay that timeline through the use of procedural tactics. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has repeatedly declined to telegraph his strategy, but he has made it clear that he will do everything he can to block the bill.However, Republicans appearing on the Sunday morning TV talk shows were all but conceding that there is nothing they can do at this point to derail the bill without the help of at least one Democratic defector.Sunday’s schedule calls for the health care debate to begin at 1:30 p.m. and run until 11:30 p.m. At that time, the Senate is scheduled to adjourn until 12:01 a.m. Monday. The debate is scheduled to begin again then, with the cloture vote on the manager’s amendment occurring at 1 a.m.

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