Senate invokes cloture on defense bill in wee hours of the morning

The Senate voted 63-33 to limit debate on the 2010 defense appropriations bill in the early hours of the morning Friday.

The $636.3 billion defense bill was passed Wednesday by the House, and in addition to war funds carries the extension of several soon-to-expire policies, ranging from unemployment aid and healthcare benefits to the anti-terrorism law known as the Patriot Act.

The bill now heads for a 7:30 a.m. Saturday vote in the Senate after Friday's 1:30 a.m. cloture vote, according to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

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Underlining the tension between Democrats and Republicans as Reid races toward a self-imposed Christmas deadline to pass healthcare reform, the debate on cloture for the defense bill was tinged with healthcare disagreements and accusations of stall tactics and ramming through legislation before the holiday break.

"Republicans didn't delay this bill until a week before Christmas," Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said.

"We're here at 1 o'clock in the morning because of the Republicans," Reid later countered.

Only three Republicans voted to limit debate on the bill; Sens. Olympia Snowe (Maine), Susan Collins (Maine) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas). Four other Republicans did not vote.

Every Democrat voted to limit debate.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) accused Democrats of attempting to rush a tangle of legislation, including an increase in the debt ceiling and the healthcare reform bill. "Our advice would be quit trying to pass this health bill before Christmas," he said.

Reid accused Republicans of "doing everything they can to stall, divert, distract, and now they're using the troops."

In announcing the time for Saturday morning's vote -- 30 hours after the early Friday morning vote -- Reid noted that one senator would have to walk a distance on Saturday morning through bad weather to get to the defense vote. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), an observant Jew, walked nearly five miles from his Georgetown home earlier this month for a Saturday session, a day when D.C. saw its first snow of the year.

The forecast for late Friday night through Saturday is for 1 to 3 inches of snow, with winds up to 30 mph.

This story was updated at 9:11 a.m.