The White House sought to downplay differences on Sunday between the two versions of healthcare legislation passed in Congress as Democrats prepared to meld them into one, while a top Republican saw "great unrest" and perhaps more party-switchers among Democrats.
The Senate passed its version of healthcare reform, President Barack Obama's top legislative priority, on Thursday with no Republicans voting for it. The House of Representatives passed its bill on November 7 with just one Republican vote.
House Democrats aren't optimistic that a government insurance plan, a central element of health care legislation passed in their chamber, will survive negotiations with the Senate.
While insisting "it's not dead," Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland said Sunday he recognizes realities in the Senate, where Democrats had to scrape up every vote from their side to pass a bill — even one without a government plan to compete in the private insurance marketplace.
"Before the House was to give up the public option, we would want to be persuaded that there are other mechanisms in whatever bill comes out that will keep down premiums," said Van Hollen. "We've got to make sure that the final product is affordable."
A comparison of the health care bills passed by the Senate and House:
The Senate Democratic bill (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act):
WHO'S COVERED: About 94 percent of legal residents under age 65 — compared with 83 percent now. Government subsidies to help buy coverage start in 2014. Of the remaining 24 million people under age 65 left uninsured, about one-third would be illegal immigrants.
COST: Coverage provisions cost $871 billion over 10 years.
HOW IT'S PAID FOR: Fees on insurance companies, drugmakers, medical device manufacturers. Medicare payroll tax increased to 2.35 percent on income over $200,000 a year for individuals, $250,000 for couples. A 10 percent sales tax on tanning salons, to be paid by the person soaking up the rays.
The Senate has voted to raise the ceiling on the government debt to $12.4 trillion. That is a $290 billion increase over the current ceiling.Read More
The House approved the increase last week. The Senate's rare Christmas Eve vote, 60-39, permits the Treasury Department to issue enough bonds to fund the government's operations and programs until mid-February. The Senate will vote again on the politically tricky issue on Jan. 20.
President Barack Obama must sign the measure into law to prevent a market-rattling, first-ever default on U.S. obligations. The measure is needed after the government piled up a record $1.4 trillion deficit in 2009 to counter a meltdown in financial markets and help bring the nation out of its worst recession in seven decades.
Senate Democrats passed a landmark health care bill in a climactic Christmas Eve vote that could define President Barack Obama's legacy and usher in near-universal medical coverage for the first time in the country's history.
The 60-39 vote on a cold winter morning capped months of arduous negotiations and 24 days of floor debate. It also followed a succession of failures by past congresses to get to this point. Vice President Joe Biden presided as 58 Democrats and two independents voted "yes." Republicans unanimously voted "no."
The tally far exceeded the simple majority required for passage.
Democrats are close enough to taste victory in their quest to remake the nation's health care system, but differences between the House and Senate on abortion could still blow it all up.
The House health care bill would bar any health plan that receives federal money from covering abortions. Under the less restrictive Senate language, plans that get federal money could cover abortion as long as customers pay premiums for the procedure separately with their own money, and the premium payments are kept in a separate account.
"Something's going to have to give," said Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., author of the abortion language in the House.
A new government insurance program that would help the elderly and disabled stay in their homes is headed for passage in the U.S. Senate's sweeping healthcare revamp despite doubts about its viability and cost.
The measure has not received the intense scrutiny focused on a proposed government-run medical coverage plan, which has been jettisoned from the Senate's healthcare bill and is unlikely to be restored in final legislation.
But the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act, which was championed by the late Senator Edward Kennedy, is a significant program that supporters say is long overdue and critics say could add to the federal treasury's long-term debt problems.
Jubilant Democrats are ready to push President Barack Obama's health care overhaul past one last 60-vote hurdle to final Christmas Eve passage, and Republicans concede they're powerless to stop it.
"It looks obvious that that's going to happen," conceded Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, after Democrats triumphed on the second of three 60-vote procedural tallies over unanimous GOP opposition.
At the White House, press secretary Robert Gibbs declared, "Health care reform is not a matter of if, health care reform now is a matter of when."
Obama himself said the Senate legislation accomplishes 95 percent of what he wanted. "Every single criteria for reform I put forward is in this bill," the president told The Washington Post.
The U.S. Senate on Tuesday set a Christmas Eve vote on final congressional approval of a bill to provide a two-month increase in the federal debt limit.
The measure, passed last week by the House of Representatives, would increase the debt limit, now at $12.1 trillion, by $290 billion.
Senate Democrats may approve the measure largely by themselves because most, if not all, Republicans are expected to vote against it, Republican aides said. Democrats control the Senate, 60-40.
Republicans have objected to raising the debt limit, accusing Democrats of reckless spending. Democrats counter by noting that the debt exploded during the administration of Republican President George W. Bush, which ended in January.
The White House and Democrats are confidently predicting Senate passage of President Barack Obama's health overhaul by Christmas after the bill cleared its second 60-vote test.
"The finish line is in sight," Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., said Tuesday at a press conference with other Senate leaders and cheering supporters. "We're not the first to attempt such reforms but we will be the first to succeed."
At the White House, spokesman Robert Gibbs said: "Health care reform is not a matter of if. Health care reform is now a matter of when."