The Senate's final vote on the sweeping healthcare overhaul will take place at 8 a.m. Thursday, about 12 hours earlier on Christmas Eve than it would have been held if Republicans used up all its time to delay the vote.
Senate Majority Leader Reid and Senate Minority Leader McConnell reached an agreement this afternoon that allows for the earlier vote, followed by one on a $290 billion short-term debt limit bill.
They also agreed to allow up to four amendments for a debate on the long-term debt limit that will occur Jan. 20, shortly after the Senate reconvenes after the holidays.
The timing deal came together after the Senate approved two more procedural steps that keep the health bill on track for final passage Thursday. On identical 60-39 votes early this morning, senators approved a substitute amendment from Reid and a cloture motion that would cut off debate on the substitute bill that replaces a House bill that had been used as a shell because revenue measures must start in the House.
The debt-ceiling agreement allows for debate on several amendments, including one to create a commission to make recommendations on reducing the debt from Budget Chairman Kent Conrad and ranking member Judd Gregg and one to end the Troubled Asset Relief Program from Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.
On health, the Senate will take up more procedural matters Wednesday afternoon, including voting on Reid's substitute bill and a cloture motion on the final bill. Republicans also want to force a point-of-order vote on the constitutionality of the individual mandate to purchase insurance.
Also today, Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., said he might yank the deal he got for Nebraska from the bill, even as he claimed today he did other states a favor.
Nelson said he accepted the deal, which has the federal government picking up the entire cost of Medicaid expansion for the state, on behalf of Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman. Heineman has come out against special treatment, claiming every state should be handled the same.
Nelson insisted he accepted the full federal coverage to help other states gain the same deal. "It's not a special deal, it's a fair deal. All will have access to it and there's plenty of time to get that done," Nelson said.
He said three senators have indicated directly to him they will shoot for the same deal he got, potentially in conference with the House.
As the clock winds down on the year, Reid is also is also hoping to win GOP agreement to allow confirmation of a package of stalled executive nominations by unanimous consent before the Senate heads home, according to leadership aides. A Reid spokeswoman said Tuesday it is not yet clear which ones or how many.
In other year-end business today, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus and ranking member Charles Grassley sent a letter to Reid and McConnell today vowing early next year to retroactively extend a series of tax provisions.
"Early in the next year, we intend to address the extension of various tax provisions expiring on or before December 31, 2009. We intend to extend the provisions without a gap in coverage, just as the House did on December 9th of this year," Baucus and Grassley said.