Senate still on track for final Christmas Eve vote on healthcare reform bill

Republicans signaled Monday they're considering allowing the vote before Dec. 24, but that seems unlikely given that their entire conference would have to agree.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has scheduled the final vote for around 7 p.m. Thursday, but Democrats have noted it could take place earlier if Republicans agreed to do so.

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After Democrats succeeded on a crucial procedural vote on amendments to the bill early Monday morning, GOP senators met that afternoon to hash out the their strategy for Christmas week.

The timing of the remaining votes on the health bill is "under discussion," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told reporters after the meeting.

Other GOP senators wouldn't comment on whether they would force the Christmas Eve vote, referring questions about vote timing to GOP leaders.

Senate Democrats have four more procedural votes before they can call for final passage of the healthcare bill.

The Senate will vote Tuesday morning at 7:15 on a package of amendments to the bill, followed immediately by a vote to limit debate on a substitute measure necessary for procedural reasons, said Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

The vote on the substitute measure will take place Wednesday afternoon, followed immediately by a vote to limit debate on the healthcare bill itself. If that passes, the vote to pass the healthcare bill could take place at approximately 7:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

Each vote could take place earlier if the Senate unanimously agrees to do so. Since just one senator could force the full debate to be dragged out, it's still likely that the vote will take place Thursday.

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said that Republicans aren't going to allow an earlier vote.

"We don't like voting on Christmas Eve any better than you do," Kyl said in a floor speech. "But the answer to it is not to make the time even shorter, but, rather, to take our time. Do it right."

Republican senators also said they're willing to block the Democrats' plan to vote to increase the $12.1 trillion debt ceiling by $290 billion immediately after passage of the healthcare bill. The move is needed because the federal debt is expected to breach the limit within weeks.

"I think the debt issue is one that we're preparing an equal debate to this healthcare issue around," said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.).

Corker said that he's certain the healthcare bill will lead to more red ink and that the debt issue "eats at me in a real way."

Democrats have dismissed GOP attacks on the potential cost of the healthcare bill, pointing to Congressional Budget Office estimates showing that the bill would reduce deficits over the next 10 years.


Tony Romm contributed to this article.

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