Defense appropriations bill passes Senate 88-10, clears way for health bill

The Senate passed a defense appropriations bill Saturday as the chamber’s Democrats cleared the decks for its healthcare reform legislation.

The $636 billion Pentagon budget and added unrelated amendments including extension of unemployment benefits for fiscal year 2010 passed the Senate overwhelmingly with a vote of 88-10. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) was joined by nine Republican senators in opposing the bill.

The vote came after a contentious cloture motion on the defense spending bill passed early Friday as Democrats accused Republicans of slowing the defense bill’s progress in order to impede their healthcare reform package. Only three Republicans voted to move forward with the defense bill then, which helped beat back a GOP-engineered filibuster.

Despite the legislation funding wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the tune of $128 billion, much of the debate on the defense bill has centered around the Democrats’ reform push for the healthcare reform legislation instead. In an effort to finish the healthcare bill before the end of the year, Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidDems leery of Planned Parenthood cuts spark Senate scuffle Overnight Finance: Senate sends Puerto Rico bill to Obama | Treasury, lawmakers to meet on tax rules | Obama hits Trump on NAFTA | Fed approves most banks' capital plans Senate passes Puerto Rico debt relief bill MORE (D-Nev.) has been keeping the Senate in session late at night and through the weekend. GOP senators, in turn, have said that Democrats are pushing the bill too quickly before it can be properly considered.

“The majority knows that the more time the public has with the bill, the more they know about it, the less they will like it,” said Sen. Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderSenate honors Tennessee coach Pat Summitt Bipartisan gun measure survives test vote Overnight Healthcare: GOP plan marks new phase in ObamaCare fight MORE (R-Tenn.) on the Senate floor Saturday before the defense vote. “This is a rush.”

Democrats countered by saying their colleagues across the aisle have concentrated on delaying their bill and have not come up with their own plan to change the healthcare system for the better.

“That is what they have to offer to the American people. Not ideas, not solutions, but delay,” said Senate Majority Whip Richard DurbinDick DurbinClinton ally stands between Sanders and chairmanship dream Reid backs House Puerto Rico bill McConnell pledges redo vote on Zika after break MORE (D-Ill.) in response. He then went through a variety of reforms the Senate healthcare bill would achieve.

The successful passage of the defense bill in the Senate now clears the way for Democrats to finish their work on the healthcare reform bill. The House had already easily passed the defense bill on Wednesday with a 395-34 vote.