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Senate Democrats Pass Health Care Reform Bill

Democrats on Thursday took a giant step toward a decades-long goal of remaking the American health care system, as the Senate followed the House in voting along partisan lines to approve landmark reform legislation. With Vice President Joseph Biden presiding, the Senate approved Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) health care overhaul bill by a 60-39 vote and sent the measure to conference with the House.Convening on Christmas Eve for the first time since 1963 and casting Christmas Eve votes for the first time in 114 years, the Senate passed the $871 billion health care package with no Republican votes. The legislation proposes trimming Medicare by $462 billion over 10 years and mandates that all Americans purchase health insurance, but it would extend coverage to about 25 million uninsured and ban practices such as denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions.The vote, beginning at 7 a.m., was the culmination of months of intense political wrangling by President Barack Obama and Senate Democratic leaders. Because all 40 Republicans were unified in their opposition, Reid and his leadership team were forced to make several concessions to moderate Democrats in order to build a 60-vote coalition capable of overcoming a GOP filibuster.Democrats knew their victory was safe Wednesday afternoon, after they killed the third of three GOP filibusters of amendments to the health care bill and the underlying package itself. Thursday’s victory required only a simple majority. The Republicans employed a number of parliamentary procedures designed to trip up the majority and delay — if not block — final passage of the bill, but none of the tactics ever had a serious chance of succeeding and none worked.House and Senate Democratic leaders must now reconcile significant differences in their two bills.The House bill, approved before Thanksgiving with just a few votes to spare, costs more than the Senate bill, includes a public insurance option — which was dropped from the Senate package — and has stronger abortion language prohibiting federal funds from being used to pay for such procedures. However, Democratic Senators warned this week that there is little wiggle room, if any, to deviate from their legislation without jeopardizing their 60-vote coalition.Reid this week declined to discuss the upcoming negotiations with House leaders, saying he was focused on getting the Senate bill across the finish line.The Senate was originally scheduled to vote late Thursday night, as called for by parliamentary rules dictating debate time between the cloture vote on the bill and final passage.But Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) reached an agreement that called for the Republicans to consent to an earlier vote on health care — as well as agreeing to a vote to increase the federal debt limit — in exchange for revisiting the debt-limit issue, including debate time and amendment votes, when the Senate reconvenes in late January.Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) did not vote Thursday morning.

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