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Moderates MIA During Democratic Victory Lap

Updated: 6:40 p.m.

Following a two-hour series of votes to clear the last remaining hurdles to passage of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) health care reform bill, most of the chamber’s 60 Democrats gathered to toast their impending victory — except for a handful of moderates who were conspicuously absent from the celebration.

Missing from the event — to which all 60 Democrats were “invited— by Reid’s office — were Democratic Sens. Ben Nelson (Neb.), Jim Webb (Va.) and Mary Landrieu (La.). Nelson and Landrieu were the last remaining holdouts to agree to Reid’s bill; Webb, a moderate who generally votes with his party’s leadership, has been the subject of attacks from Republicans in the last several weeks.

But Democrats didn’t let the absence of their moderates stop them from praising Reid.

“He’s exhibited the patience of Job, the wisdom of Solomon and the endurance of Samson,— Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said of Reid, adding that, “Majority Leader Reid has earned his place in the history of the Senate.—

Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), another central figure in developing the health care bill, said Democrats have “been blessed indeed to have a leader named Harry Reid,— comparing the Nevada Democrat to George Washington during his crossing the Delaware River. “Those who have attempted to make our union more perfect have always faced difficult odds,— Dodd said before warning that, “history will judge harshly those who have chosen the easy path of obstruction.—

For his part, Reid called Thursday’s final vote on his bill “the most significant finish line we’ve had in decades,— and praised his Conference’s ability to come together to pass the package. “I see this as 60 leaders who stood up against insurance companies and for working families across the country,— he said.

Reid has spent the past few months trying to corral his 60-strong Conference behind a bill. And as he faces a brutal bid for a fifth term next year, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Health Care Reform will no doubt play a role in his re-election: He will tout it as an accomplishment, while Republicans will use it as fodder to attack the Majority Leader.

In the short term, however, Republicans were more focused on the Christmas Eve vote and refused to move up the tally to Wednesday night, despite the fact that they have no chance at this point of blocking the bill.

Democrats urged Republicans to acquiesce to an earlier vote — perhaps even 12:01 a.m. Thursday — but to no avail.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who plans to jet to London after the vote to spend Christmas with her husband’s family, chatted up Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and others but only succeeded in moving the time up to 7 a.m.

“I’ll arrive late,— she said of her trip.

An effort by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to get Republicans to agree on the Senate floor to a Wednesday evening vote was squashed by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) after he exchanged glances with McCain.

McCain then gave McConnell a thumbs-up.

McCain said he would have objected to truncating the debate any further. “That was the agreement we made,— he said. “I usually try to abide by agreements.—

Reid, meanwhile, refused twice to discuss a looming conference committee with the House, saying he plans to go back home to Searchlight, Nev., to be with his family.

“For a few days after that, I’m going to watch my rabbits eat my cactus,— he said, deadpan.

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