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Health Care Bill Heads For Passage

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Health Care Bill Heads For Passage

Health Care

Health Care Bill Heads For Passage

Health Care Bill Heads For Passage

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Senate Democrats won a key procedural vote in the early hours of the morning, overcoming Republican opposition to health care legislation. Two more votes loom before expected final Senate passage by Christmas Eve.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

The health care overhaul is moving forward in fits and starts. Even as Republicans use every rule in the book to delay a final vote, that vote is expected on Christmas Eve. Late last night, the longest night of the year, lights burned bright in the Senate. In the early hours today, Democrats proved they had 60 votes, enough to thwart a GOP filibuster.

NPR's David Welna has the latest.

DAVID WELNA: In a roll call vote at 1:01 this morning, just as Senate Democratic leaders had predicted, all 60 members of the Democratic caucus came down in favor of ending a GOP filibuster of the health care bill. Dick Durbin, the Senate's number two Democrat hailed that strictly party line outcome this afternoon on the Senate floor.

Senator DICK DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): I think when the history of the United States Senate is written, this vote will be included because it is an historic vote.

WELNA: The vote cleared the way for approval of a so-called manager's amendment pieced together by Majority Leader Harry Reid. It's a measure chock full of deals he cut with individual senators and interest groups to win support for the bill. Reid was making no apologies today for practicing what he called the art of compromise.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): Never have we been so close to reforming America's broken health insurance system. We're not over the finish line, but we would never have gotten this far without the support of doctors, nurses, medical professionals.

WELNA: Alongside Reid at a Capitol news conference stood Dr. Cecil Wilson, president-elect of the American Medical Association. Wilson announced the AMA had decided to support the Senate's health care bill after getting several items it wanted in Reid's manager's amendment.

Dr. CECIL WILSON (President-Elect, American Medical Association): For example, the bill increases payments to primary care physicians and general surgeons and underserved areas, while no longer cutting payments to other physicians. It eliminates the tax on physician services for cosmetic surgery and drops the proposed physician enrollment fee for Medicare.

WELNA: Now, that might sound like Senate Democrats gave in to a special interest group, but at the White House today, President Obama portrayed his former colleagues as having done exactly the opposite.

President BARACK OBAMA: By standing up to the special interests who've prevented reform for decades and who are furiously lobbying against it now, the Senate has moved us closer to reform that makes a tremendous difference for families, for seniors, for businesses and for the country as a whole.

WELNA: Not surprisingly, Senate Republicans disagree. Here's John Cornyn of Texas slamming the health care bill today on the Senate floor.

Senator JOHN CORNYN (Republican, Texas): Rather than making decisions about what's best for the American people, this deal has been driven by deals with special interest groups and lobbyists. And rather than listen to constituents, individual Senators have decided that their votes should be traded for tax dollars and other sweetheart benefits that go to their states.

WELNA: One such benefit went to Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson. He pledged support for the bill after being promised that expanded Medicaid coverage in his state would be paid for permanently by the federal government. Today, Nebraska Republican Mike Johanns denounced that deal.

Senator MIKE JOHANNS (Republican, Nebraska): Nebraskans are frustrated and angry that our beloved state has been thrust into the same pot with all of the other special deals that get cut here.

WELNA: Republicans accused Democrats of ignoring recent polls showing rising opposition to the health care legislation. But Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin says he's not worried about a voter backlash.

Senator TOM HARKIN (Democrat, Iowa): Once we get this done and the American public sees what's really happening and get rid of all this yakety yak and all the tomfoolery around here. People are going to see that we did a good thing.

WELNA: Republicans would like to drag out voting on the bill as long as they can. Again, Texas Republican John Cornyn.

Sen. CORNYN: Mr. President, this debate is not over. There's still a chance to vote against this bill.

WELNA: By most calculations, a final vote could come late on Christmas Eve.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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