Senate Rushes To Get Health Overhaul Bill Passed

Senate health care legislation has taken another step forward. Democrats had enough votes to keep Republicans from being able to filibuster. It was an incredibly hard-fought vote, and senators are on track to vote on it Christmas Eve.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

For a closer look at what the Senate action means, we're joined this Monday morning, as we are most Monday mornings, by NPR's Cokie Roberts. Good morning, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS: Hi, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: This was an incredibly hard fought vote, hard to get to 60, and as we just heard, the Senate is likely to still be at it on Christmas Eve.

ROBERTS: Well, you and I've been there on Christmas Eve, with the Senate, and aren't we glad Julie Rovner is there�

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: Yeah.

ROBERTS: �this time around�

WERTHEIMER: Absolutely.

ROBERTS: �doing yeoman work, weekend in and weekend out. But you know, you remember the Christmas time, when two North Carolina senators held up the entire institution over a highway bill and Allan Simpson got so furious that the threatened to remember North Carolina negatively in future votes? I mean, it does make them absolutely furious, but, as you well know, legislators need a deadline and Christmas is the most obvious one. And that is the way many, many things get done; and it's happened many, many times in the course of our history. But it does get your attention and the attention of the voters.

WERTHEIMER: Why do you think it's so hard for the Democrats to get to 60? I mean, what we're talking about here is a Democratic Congress, a Democratic president's number one legislative priority, and they had such a tough time doing it.

ROBERTS: Because it's such a hard subject. And, of course, you and I, again, have covered lots of health care bills that didn't make it. But the Republicans also decided, very early on here, not to play; not to compromise, not to be there for these votes for their own political reasons. And of course, the filibuster means that every senator has to be wooed to get to that 60, so that's what happened with Harry Reid, just indefatigable, apparently, in doing that.

You know, there's lots of conversation about changing the filibuster rules. I personally think that people should be forced to actually filibuster, you know, go back and do the talking until they drop, as they have in the past - that that might discourage them from threatening filibusters on everything and having to get to a vote of 60, a super majority, which was, of course, not the original intention in writing the Constitution about the Senate.

What, of course, it means is every senator has to be wooed and that's what makes House members just absolutely furious, because then they get presented with a fait accompli.

WERTHEIMER: The big holdout was Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson, and Democrats were courting him like crazy. He extracted promises for his state. Do you think he's likely to suffer any long-term damage, politically, for this holding out process?

ROBERTS: I can't see how he would. Republicans really were all over him on the floor of the Senate and on the talk shows yesterday. And - but, look, his very Republican state, Nebraska, doesn't like this health care bill. So, he can go home now and say, look, I had to vote for it because look what I got for the state? I got this big Medicaid - health care program for the poor - paid for.

The voters will get that and I don't think they're going to particularly care about people like Mitch McConnell or calling Nelson's vote a, quote, "a smelly proposition."

WERTHEIMER: Well, what about those Republicans? Are they courting any kind of grief here, by deciding early on that they would just oppose everything to do with health care?

ROBERTS: Well, they certainly don't think so, and in any conversation I've had with them, they continue to say that, look, the polls show that people don't like this bill; the longer it's out there the more they don't like it. Yesterday, there was a new reading from the Congressional Budget Office, saying that the bill's going to save a lot less than the original evaluation by the Congressional Budget Office.

Republicans think all of that is helpful to them. They might be right, they might be wrong in the long run, but under any circumstances, they'll likely to be right in the short term, which, of course, could be a big problem for the Democrats holding onto Congress in the next election. And that's something they have to think about as they're voting on Christmas Eve.

WERTHEIMER: Thank you very much, Cokie.

ROBERTS: Merry Christmas.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's news analyst Cokie Roberts.

(Soundbite of music)

WERTHEIMER: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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