After months of maneuvering, the Senate stands at the brink of a historic battle over health care with President Barack Obama and his allies on one side and Republicans, outnumbered but unflinching, on the other.
"Now it's America's turn, and this will not be a short debate," Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, warned after Majority Leader Harry Reid unveiled long-awaited legislation Wednesday night to extend coverage to 30 million more Americans and force insurance companies to take all comers.
"Higher premiums, tax increases and Medicare cuts to pay for more government. The American people know that is not reform," McConnell said.
West Virginia Sen. Robert C. Byrd has become the longest-serving lawmaker in congressional history, a milestone to be marked Wednesday with a Senate resolution.
"I look forward to serving you for the next 56 years and 320 days," Byrd said in a statement marking the occasion. His only regret, Byrd said, was that his late wife, Erma, was not there with him.
"I know that she is looking down from the heavens smiling at me and saying congratulations, my dear Robert — but don't let it go to your head," Byrd said.
It was unclear whether Byrd would be able to attend Wednesday's session.
Setting records is old news to the white-maned Democratic lawmaker. Since June 12, 2006, Byrd has been the longest-serving senator and later that year he was elected to an unprecedented ninth term. His colleagues have elected him to more leadership positions than any senator in history. He has cast more than 18,000 votes and, despite fragile health that has kept him from the Senate floor during much of this year, has a nearly 98 percent attendance record over the course of his career.
Business foes of health care overhaul legislation are outspending supporters at a rate of 2-to-1 for TV ads as they grow increasingly nervous over a final bill.
Led by the giant U.S. Chamber of Commerce, opponents of the Democratic health care drive have spent $24 million on TV commercials over the past month to $12 million spent by labor unions and other backers. That's an abrupt reversal from the vast spending advantage supporters enjoyed most of this year, according to Evan Tracey, president of Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks political ads.
Abortion rights groups, outflanked and outnumbered in the health debate, are scrambling to regain lost ground after the House passed a health bill with strict abortion limits.
They're blanketing Capitol Hill with lobbyists, petitions, letters and phone calls in efforts to defeat the restrictions in the Senate, where debate could begin in a few days. They also have a larger goal: to prove that with their Democratic allies in control of the White House and both congressional chambers — but increasingly appealing to conservative voters who back abortion limits — they still have clout.
A senior policy fellow for Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) has pleaded guilty to defrauding the government and private lenders of nearly $822,000 by using aliases to obtain student loans and more than 90 credit cards.
Ernest B. Moore, who went by Bernard Moore and Bernard Glenn-Moore on Capitol Hill, had a penchant for putting together events with marquee names -- and a special legislative interest in sentencing issues and measures like the “Second Chance Act,” which is designed to help nonviolent offenders reabsorb into society.
“Who knew that he was writing that bill for himself?” quipped a former congressional aide who knows Moore.
Catholic bishops have emerged as a formidable force in the health care overhaul fight, using their clout with millions of Catholics and working behind the scenes in Congress to get strong abortion restrictions into the House bill.
They don't spend a dime on what is legally defined as lobbying, but lawmakers and insiders recognize that the bishops' voices matter — and they move votes. Representatives for the bishops were in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's Capitol suite negotiating with top officials last Friday evening as they reached final terms of the agreement. Earlier in the day, Pelosi, a Catholic and an abortion rights supporter, had been on the phone to Rome with Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, Washington's former archbishop, on the subject.
Former President Bill Clinton knows just how high the political stakes are in the fight to overhaul America's health care system.
His failed attempt to revamp the delivery of medical care contributed to the Republican takeover of the House and Senate in 1994.
Fast forward to 2009, where health care's white-hot spotlight now shines on the Senate. Clinton is still in the picture, and he's expected to speak to Senate Democrats about health care legislation during their weekly caucus Tuesday, officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss his schedule.
After a landmark win in the House of Representatives, President Barack Obama's push for healthcare reform faces a difficult path in the Senate amid divisions in his own Democratic Party on how to proceed.
On a 220-215 vote, including the support of one Republican and opposition from 39 Democrats, the House backed a bill late on Saturday that would expand coverage to nearly all Americans and bar insurance practices such as refusing to cover people with pre-existing medical conditions.
The battle now shifts to the Senate, where work on Obama's top domestic priority has been stalled for weeks as Democratic leader Harry Reid searches for an approach that can win the 60 votes he needs to overcome Republican procedural hurdles.
Don't look for the Senate to quickly follow the House on health care overhaul.
A government health insurance plan included in the House bill is unacceptable to a few Democratic moderates who hold the balance of power in the Senate. They're locked in a battle with liberals, with the fate of President Barack Obama's signature issue at stake.
If a government plan is part of the deal, "as a matter of conscience, I will not allow this bill to come to a final vote," said Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Connecticut independent whose vote Democrats need to overcome GOP filibusters.
"The House bill is dead on arrival in the Senate," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said.
The House of Representatives narrowly endorsed on Saturday the biggest healthcare overhaul in decades, giving President Barack Obama a crucial victory in a battle that now moves to the Senate.
By a 220-215 vote, including the support of one Republican, the House backed a bill that would expand coverage to nearly all Americans and bar insurance practices such as refusing to cover people with pre-existing conditions.
But in the Senate, work on a healthcare bill -- Obama's top domestic priority -- has stalled for weeks as Democratic leader Harry Reid searches for an approach that can win the 60 votes he needs.
Any differences between the Senate and House bills ultimately will have to be reconciled, and a final bill passed again by both before going to Obama for his signature.