By Jeffrey Young - 12/22/09 01:24 PM EST
Senators approved a series of procedural votes Tuesday morning that brings them closer to a Christmas Eve vote on healthcare reform. Senators voted to adopt a manager's amendment that contains changes to the healthcare bill, and to limit debate on a substitute amendment.
The Senate next will vote on Wednesday to adopt a substitute amendment that includes the Senate's healthcare bill. Members will then vote to end debate on that amendment, which will require 60 votes. That will tee up the Christmas Eve vote to pass the legislation itself.
Both motions on Tuesday were approved on 60-39 votes. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) was absent.
Republicans hoping to block healthcare reform have thrown procedural objections against the Democrats, forcing a series of late-night and early-morning votes.
"Because of the long hours we've spent here, for weeks now there's a lot of tension in the Senate," Reid said. He invoked Rodney King in asking lawmakers, "Let's just all try to get along," adding that he hoped senators would "go back to their gentlemanly ways."
Reid also mentioned the Christmas holiday, telling senators it was a time to reflect "on peace and good things in life."
Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) followed Reid, telling senators that he and Reid were working on an agreement that would "give certainty" to the way the Senate will end its session.
"Hopefully the two of us together can be recommending something that makes sense for both sides in the not-too-distant future," McConnell said.
Republican leaders on Monday indicated that they are unlikely to yield and allow the Senate to adjourn before a Christmas Eve vote, even though their chances of stopping the legislation this
weak appear slimmer by the day.
Final Senate approval would usher healthcare reform to a stage it has never before reached in history: final negotiations between the House and the Senate on the bill that would become law.
Barring any dramatic flip-flops or unexpected absences during the last few days of Senate debate, the healthcare reform bill will clear the chamber Thursday evening, after which the Senate will join the House on a three-week recess.
When Congress returns, House and Senate Democratic leaders will work to reconcile their differences and send the final version to President Barack Obama for his signature, a goal they aim to achieve before the State of the Union address.
The legislation would spend $871 billion over 10 years to extend health insurance coverage to 31 million people while cutting Medicare and other program spending by $483 billion, raising $614 billion in new tax revenue and cutting the federal budget deficit by $132 billion. The measure would create health insurance exchanges with subsidies for low- and middle-income people, expand Medicaid eligibility, enact strict new regulations on health insurers and put in place measures to reform the way healthcare services are delivered.
The legislative vehicle on the floor technically is an unrelated, House-passed tax bill, the text of which will be replaced by the substitute amendment. The Constitution requires that all tax bills originate in the House; because the Senate bill includes tax increases, Reid used the House-passed tax bill as a “shell” for the healthcare legislation.
Under Senate rules, 30 hours must expire between a cloture vote and a vote to pass an amendment or a bill unless the majority and minority parties agree to waive that requirement to accelerate action on the floor. Republicans are united in opposition to the healthcare bill, however, and have employed numerous parliamentary maneuvers to slow down the process instead.