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News Wrap: Senate Health Fight Nears End

December 22, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
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In other news, the goal line appeared in sight Tuesday for the health care debate in the U.S. Senate, and Republicans picked up another vote in the House after freshman Democrat Parker Griffith announced he is switching parties.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, for the other news of the day, here’s Hari Sreenivasan in our newsroom — Hari.


The goal lien appeared in sight today for the U.S. Senate, after 25 days of debating health care reform.

“NewsHour” health correspondent Betty Ann Bowser reports.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: It was the news debate-weary senators had been waiting to hear for weeks. Majority Leader Harry Reid announced late today, the final vote on the Democrats’ health care reform bill is set for 8:00 am on Christmas Eve.

MAN: The yeas and nays are mandatory under the rule. The clerk will call the roll.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: The word came hours after Democrats prevailed again, this time on three more test votes, by a 60-to-39 margin on each one. Following those votes, Reid addressed the rancor that has been growing as debate moved closer to Christmas, urging both sides of the aisle to try and get along.

SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev.: Mr. President, I said when the Senate opened today, and I will say again, because of the long hours we have spent here for weeks now, there is a lot of tension in the Senate, and feelings are high. And that’s fine. Everybody has very strong concerns about everything we have done and have to do. But I would hope that everyone would go back to their gentlemanly and — ways.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Republicans had used every procedural maneuver in their playbook to slow the bill down, at one point pushing final action to Christmas Eve night. They relented today to accelerate the schedule, but they kept up their criticism of the bill itself.

South Dakota Senator John Thune.

SEN. JOHN THUNE, R-S.D.: This is not over yet. They may have 60 votes today, but it’s a long ways from the finish line. And the American people, I think, are going to have the opportunity to weigh in when every one of our senators goes home over the holidays and hears directly from them.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: At the White House this afternoon, President Obama said he’s delaying his planned family holiday in Hawaii, as he awaits Senate action.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I will not leave until my friends in the Senate have completed their work. My attitude is, is that if they’re making these sacrifices to provide health care to all Americans, then the least I can do is to be around and provide them any encouragement and last-minute help where necessary.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: In the meantime, Democrats defended the deal-making they had to use to corral the 60 votes they needed for passage. The chairman of the Health Committee, Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, summed it up this way: “The principle of this bill overrides everything.”

HARI SREENIVASAN: Jim Lehrer will have an interview with President Obama on health care and other issues tomorrow night on the “NewsHour.”

Republicans have picked up another vote in the U.S. House. Freshman Democrat Parker Griffith of Alabama announced today he is switching sides. He opposed the economic stimulus package and health care legislation, and had one of the most conservative voting records of any House Democrat. Democrats still control the House by a substantial margin.

In economic news, resales of existing homes soared in November, to the highest level in nearly three years. The National Association of Realtors said it was due to low-mortgage interest rates and a federal tax credit.

The housing data helped Wall Street rally. The Dow Jones industrial average gained more than 50 points, to close near 10465. The Nasdaq rose 15 points, to close at 2252.

Negotiations intensified today for a prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas. The Islamic militant group that rules Gaza has offered to release Israeli army Sergeant Gilad Shalit. He was captured more than three years ago. In turn, Israel would free 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. But Hamas complained the Israelis were dragging their feet.

AHMED BAHAR, deputy parliament speaker, Hamas (through translator): This deal has various aspects, and the resistance is working on them. But I can tell you that the ball is in the Israelis’ court because of their stubbornness in not accepting the conditions of our brothers in the resistance.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Offers and counteroffers went back and forth through German mediators. And Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said getting Shalit back was a top priority.

EHUD BARAK, defense minister, Israel (through translator): The Israeli government, and certainly we who sent Gilad Shalit, the chief of staff and I, view it as the utmost ethical and command obligation to make any reasonable and possible move in order to bring Gilad home, not at any price, but any possible and reasonable move to bring him home.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Wire service accounts said Israel has balked at releasing Palestinians convicted of killing Israelis.

A heavy dust storm in the western U.S. today triggered a fiery highway pileup. At least four people died in the burning wreckage on Interstate 10 near Casa Grande, Arizona. One of the vehicles was a tanker truck that exploded. Several people suffered severe burns.

Those are some of the day’s main stories. I will be back at the end of the program with a preview of what you will find tonight on the “NewsHour”‘s Web site — but, for now, back to Jeff.