Invoking the memory of Edward M. Kennedy, Democrats united Saturday night to push historic health care legislation past a key Senate hurdle over the opposition of Republicans eager to inflict a punishing defeat on President Barack Obama. There was not a vote to spare.
The 60-39 vote cleared the way for a bruising, full-scale debate beginning after Thanksgiving on the legislation, which is designed to extend coverage to roughly 31 million who lack it, crack down on insurance company practices that deny or dilute benefits and curtail the growth of spending on medical care nationally.
The spectator galleries were full for the unusual Saturday night showdown, and applause broke out briefly when the vote was announced. In a measure of the significance of the moment, senators sat quietly in their seats, standing only when they were called upon to vote.
Republicans are seizing on this week's recommendations for fewer Pap smears and mammograms to fuel concern about government-rationed medical care — and to try to chip away support by women for President Barack Obama's proposed health care overhaul.
"This is how rationing starts," declared Jon Kyl of Arizona, the party's second-in-command in the Senate, during a news conference. "This is what we're going to expect in the future."
Said Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska: "Those recommendations will be used by the insurance companies as they make a determination as to what they're going to cover."
A crucial first Senate vote on President Barack Obama's health care overhaul in a rare Saturday night session looms as a test of Democratic unity and the president's prestige.
Democratic leaders are optimistic of success, but they need every Democrat and both independents to vote "yes," and two moderates remained uncommitted ahead of the roll call, which is expected around 8 p.m. The vote will determine whether debate can go forward on Majority Leader Harry Reid's 2,074-page bill to dramatically remake the U.S. health care system over the next decade.
Digging in for a long struggle, Republican senators and governors assailed the Democrats' newly minted health care legislation Thursday as a collection of tax increases, Medicare cuts and heavy new burdens for deficit-ridden states.
Despite the criticism, there were growing indications Democrats would prevail on an initial Senate showdown set for Saturday night, and Majority Leader Harry Reid crisply rebutted the Republican charges. The bill "will save lives, save money and save Medicare," he said.
The legislation is designed to answer President Barack Obama's call to expand coverage, end industry practices such as denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions, and restrain the growth of health care spending.
Republicans saw little to like.
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.