HEALTH REFORM -- December 21, 2009 at 9:23 AM ET
Health Care Bill Passes Crucial Vote
After a weekend of political bargaining and raucous partisan debate, Senate Democrats won a key early-morning procedural vote Monday on a bill to overhaul the nation's health care system, inching the measure closer to a final vote by Christmas Eve.
All 58 Democrats and two independents supported the measure in the party-line cloture vote, which came shortly after 1 a.m. in the snow-covered Capitol. The late-night timing was considered necessary to have a final vote by a Christmas deadline.
The vote achieves the 60-40 margin needed to shut down a threatened GOP filibuster. Monday's test vote is the first of a series of procedural motions that Democrats must traverse before a final vote on the bill, which would mark the biggest change to the U.S. health care system since the 1965 creation of the Medicare program.
On Saturday, Senate Democrats announced that they had struck a deal with their last party holdout. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., agreed to a compromise at 10:30 p.m. Friday, after a marathon 13 hours of negotiations.
"Health care in America ought to be a right, not a privilege," Sen. Chris Dodd, D- Conn., said after the roll call. "Since the time of Harry Truman, every Congress, Republican and Democrat, every president, Democrat and Republican, have at least thought about doing this. Some actually tried."
GOP lawmakers, meanwhile, blasted the last-minute push.
"The impact of this vote will long outlive this one frantic, snowy weekend in Washington," Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell said. "This legislation will reshape our nation, and Americans have already issued their verdict -- they don't want it."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., vowed to "fight until the last vote," a threat that would keep senators at their desks well into Christmas Eve night.
Even after Senate passage, however, work may be far from done. House and Senate versions of the legislation still have to be reconciled, and some lawmakers are already warning that their support may waver with any changes.