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Senate Democrats sprint to vote on healthcare reform next week

Democratic leaders in the Senate plan to vote on final passage of the healthcare reform bill on Christmas Eve.

By Staff writer / December 18, 2009

President Barack Obama makes a statement on health care reform after meeting with Senators, Tuesday, at the White House in Washington. From left are, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn.; Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.; the president; and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev.

Charles Dharapak/AP

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Washington

A bleary 1 a.m. vote Friday morning to advance a massive defense spending bill sets up a procedural sprint to vote on healthcare reform in the Senate before Christmas.

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If all goes as planned by Democratic leaders – a big “if” in a body highly skilled in arcane procedural warfare – the Senate will pass the $626 billion defense bill at 8 a.m. on Saturday, then move to key procedural votes on healthcare at 1 a.m. Monday, 8 a.m. Tuesday, and 1 p.m. Wednesday, with a vote on final passage on Christmas Eve, according to a senior Democratic aide.

But each of these votes requires 60 votes. If all 40 Republican senators are united in opposition, Democrats will need every vote in their caucus.

Democrats' hunt for the 60th vote has dominated Senate corridors for weeks. Early this week, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I) of Connecticut was the key holdout. No way would he vote for a bill that included a public option, so Senate majority leader Harry Reid said that the bill taken to the floor would drop it, in favor of expanding access to Medicare. Senator Lieberman said he couldn’t accept that, either, so the majority leader said he would drop that as well. So was it 60? Not quite.

“I’m grateful the public option and expansion of Medicare are out, but I haven’t seen the whole manager's amendment,” Lieberman said Thursday night – a reference to the package of changes and compromises that Senator Reid will bring to the floor.

But the Connecticut senator wasn't the only challenge. Sen. Ben Nelson (D) of Nebraska lapped Lieberman as the No. 1 holdout when he told a Nebraska radio station that the compromise language to ban public funding of abortion wasn’t strong enough to win his vote. Reid assigned Sen. Bob Casey (D) of Pennsylvania, another opponent of abortion rights, to work out a compromise. The new deal includes help for pregnant teens and tax credits to encourage adoption.

"These are valuable improvements that will make a positive difference and promote life,” Senator Nelson said in a statement Thursday. “But as it is, without modifications, the language concerning abortion is not sufficient."

As part of the effort to secure a 60th vote, President Obama met with Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine for an hour and a half at the White House on Thursday. They spoke again for half an hour on the phone before the president’s evening flight to Copenhagen, Denmark. But she’s not on board, either.

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