The Senate approved another round of procedural moves this morning, moving the $871 billion healthcare overhaul bill closer to final passage over Republican objections.
On a vote of 60-39, the Senate passed a manager's amendment that made 383 pages worth of changes to the bill. By the same tally, the Senate then approved a cloture motion to end debate on the substitute bill. The substitute language from Majority Leader Reid replaced a shell House bill that was used as a legislative vehicle, since revenue measures must originate in the House.
The votes keep the package on pace for a final vote on Christmas Eve, although some Republicans are pushing their leaders to abandon a hopeless fight and allow an earlier final vote so members can begin their holiday recess.
Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said the successful push for overhaul is "a total vindication of Harry Reid's strategy, which, by the way, believe me, he had on track all along."
Some observers questioned Reid when he included a public option in the bill that states could opt out of. Even Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus said no such provision could gain 60 votes in the Senate. But by going to bat for liberals, Reid ended up keeping them on board when it became apparent moderates would not vote for a bill with a public option and it had to be stripped.
Baucus cautioned his prediction on the public option is still true, and added that the House also needs to accept the Senate's excise tax on high-cost health plans as a revenue raiser instead of the tax on the wealthy the House prefers.
"This was a very fragile coalition," Baucus said.
He does envision some changes to the Senate bill to reflect the House bill "out of decency," but nothing major. Baucus said he was unsure when lawmakers would begin work in earnest to merge the House and Senate overhaul bills.
"We need to keep moving on the one hand and take stock and get some perspective on the other," he said.
Democrats do know they want the merger process complete and the married bill on President Obama's desk by the State of the Union address. That address is typically delivered in late January, although the White House has had some discussions about pushing it into early February if more time is needed to reconcile differences on the health bill that Obama has made the centerpiece of his first-year agenda.