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Senate Still on Track to Pass Health Care Reform by Christmas

December 22, 2009 - by Donny Shaw

The Senate this morning passed two more procedural hurdles on their health care bill and remain on track to pass the bill before Christmas.

Today’s votes were on passage of the manager’s amendment (.pdf), which contains the meat of the “deal” that won unanimous support for the bill among Democrats, and on ending a filibuster of the substitute amendment (as amended by the manager’s amendment), which is basically the underlying Senate health care bill. Both votes passed along party lines, with all 60 Democrats voting in favor and all Republicans that were present voting against. Sen. James Inhofe [R, OK] flew home early for Christmas and did not vote.

Under Senate rules, Republicans can (and are expected to) now require 30 more hours of debate before the Senate votes on passage of the substitute amendment, which means it will take place tomorrow at about 1 p.m. After that, there will be a vote on wrapping up debate of the bill itself (as amended by the substitute amendment as amended by the manager’s amendment). After that, Republicans could again hold debate of the bill open for 30 hours, but there is now some indication that Republican and Democratic leaders are working out a deal to allow a final vote on passage of the bill happen on Wednesday in order to avoid ice storms in the midwest that could hinder senators’ holiday travel plans. (UPDATE: the final vote has officially been scheduled for 8 a.m. on Christmas Eve).

Once the Senate passes their bill, Congress will break for the holidays and not come back until mid to late January. While they are away on recess though, a conference committee made up of committee leaders from the Senate and House will meet to reconcile the different House and Senate health care bills in to a final version that can must be approved again by both chambers. According to Christina Bellantoni at TPM, the final bill that comes out of conference committee is probably going to look a lot like the more conservative Senate bill and completely eschew many of the House bill’s main features, including the public option.

House Democrats believe they will secure additional health care reform votes from Blue Dog Democrats thanks to the Senate’s more conservative version of the legislation. And despite deep misgivings, the House Democratic leadership expects to lose few if any progressive Democratic votes over the demise of the public option, paving the way to get a final bill to President Obama’s desk by Feb. 1.
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