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  Health Bill Advances as Senate Democrats Garner 60 Votes  

Media reports are portraying the Senate's 60-40 cloture vote on the healthcare bill as a critical victory en route to a planned final vote on Christmas Eve. USA Today (12/21, Fritze) reports that despite "fierce Republican opposition and the lingering effects of a major Northeast snowstorm, Senate Democrats cleared a critical vote on a 10-year, $871 billion healthcare bill early this morning, steering the proposal toward approval on Christmas Eve." On a "party-line vote, the Senate agreed 60-40 to close debate and advance a retooled version of the healthcare legislation unveiled over the weekend by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)." The New York Times (12/21, Herszenhorn, Pear) reports that the 60 to 40 tally "is expected to be repeated four times as further procedural hurdles are cleared in the days ahead, and then once more in a dramatic, if predictable, finale tentatively scheduled for 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve."

        The Los Angeles Times (12/21, Hook, Levey) reports that with "final Senate approval of the bill expected this week, Democrats and the White House were moving to shift the focus from their dozens of concessions -- such as jettisoning a government alternative to private health insurance -- toward the momentous changes they said it would bring: providing insurance access to 31 million more Americans, cracking down on insurance practices, and beginning to curb healthcare cost inflation." Opinion polls "indicate that the public's support for the healthcare overhaul is waning. Hoping to reverse that slide, Democrats and the White House are intensifying efforts to reshape public perception of the bill as a glass half full, not half empty."

        The Washington Times (12/21, Haberkorn) reports while Senate Democrats "spent much of December leaving the most contentious pieces of their historic healthcare reform bill on the cutting-room floor, both they and President Obama argue that what remains will still transform a broken healthcare system and improve the lives of every American." Notably, however, in the "search for compromise to reach 60 votes, the bill doesn't have the public insurance plan or the Medicare expansion for which some Democrats had been hoping."

        The Washington Post (12/21, Murray, Montgomery) reports that although "admittedly outflanked, Republicans declined to relent. In the hours before the cloture vote, GOP lawmakers took turns condemning the bill in impassioned speeches on the Senate floor. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) called it a 'historic mistake.' Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) accused Democrats of producing 'a mess' that represented 'a blind call to make history.'"

        The AP (12/21, Espo) reports the "atmosphere was intensely partisan, but the outcome preordained as senators cast their votes from their desks, a practice reserved for issues of particular importance." Sen. Ben Nelson's (D-NE) "announcement Saturday that he had decided to support the bill -- in exchange for a variety of concessions -- cemented the Democrats' 60-vote majority behind a bill assembled at the direction of" Majority Leader Reid. Nelson "came in for strong criticism from Republicans in Washington, who complained that he had won favorable treatment for his home state's Medicaid program."

        Politico (12/21, Brown, Shiner) reports that until Reid "secured Sen. Ben Nelson's support late Friday night, the bill was in doubt. But after nearly a year of discussion and debate on President Barack Obama's top legislative priority, there was little suspense about the final outcome of the early-morning vote. One by one, wavering Democrats announced their intentions to vote yes -- just as every single Republican announced plans to vote no."

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