Senate Democrats Block Filibuster Amid Push for Health Reform

This post was updated at 12:18pm ET.

In their struggle to secure the 60 votes necessary to pass health care legislation, Democrats in the Senate made slight inroads early Friday morning, blocking a potential GOP filibuster apparently aimed to delay passage of the reform bill.

Senators were called into an unplanned session at midnight after Republicans vowed to block a defense spending bill. The move was intended to set back Democrats, but the Senate voted 63-33 to end debate on the bill, which has already been passed the House.

In a dramatic scene, ailing Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., the longest-serving member of Congress in history, was assisted in at 1 a.m. to help break the filibuster. According to Senate staff, he was heard yelling “Shame!” from his wheelchair. He received a standing ovation from some senators.

Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., who opposes federal funding for abortions, remains a critical holdout on the bill. But key lawmakers hope they can persuade him to vote for the bill by Saturday and have a health care bill by Christmas Eve, [reported the Washington Post](http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/18/AR2009121800241.html). On Wednesday, Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr., D-Pa., proposed adding compromises to the legislation that might appeal to abortion opponents. He proposed including a $1,000 increase in tax credits for adoptive parents and a new federal fund to help women cope with unwanted pregnancies. Nelson signaled on Thursday that the initiatives might be enough to persuade him to vote for reform, said the Post. [The Los Angeles Times has an analysis](http://www.latimes.com/news/nation-and-world/la-na-health-assess18-2009dec18,0,5056746.story) of how the absence of a public option will affect health care reform. Removing the controversial program was meant to placate moderates and conservatives, however the revised proposal merely sets up government to regulate the private sector rather than compete with it. As a result, health insurance and their clients might suffer, said the Times. *– PBS NewsHour reporter/producer Quinn Bowman contributed to this report.*