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."
Twice now, abortion was almost a dealbreaker. This time, it was a dealmaker. But of hundreds of deals cut so health care legislation can stay alive, the hardest to keep may be the Senate's abortion compromise — achieved after 13 hours of negotiation. The volatile issue remains the biggest threat to getting a history-making bill to President Barack Obama.
Deals are the lifeblood of legislation. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana got $100 million more for her state, Connecticut's Joe Lieberman stripped the bill of a government insurance plan and Ben Nelson won a slew of favors for Nebraska — all in exchange for their votes.
Nelson was also pivotal in the abortion compromise. The abortion-rights foe cast the 60th vote Monday to prevent Republicans from burying the bill.
One 60-vote hurdle down, two to go for President Barack Obama's health care overhaul in the Senate.
The second vote was set for early Tuesday morning as exhausted but happy Democratic leaders pushed the landmark legislation toward passage before Christmas.
The outcome of the vote to overcome GOP opposition to the 2,074-page legislation is preordained. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has herded 58 Democrats and two independents into line through a combination of wheedling, cajoling and dispensing special deals. The strategy has Republicans irate but Reid makes no apologies.
It was the concern of Nebraska's Republican governor over expanded Medicaid costs in the proposed Senate health care overhaul bill that led to a compromise to cover his state's estimated $45 million share over a decade, U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson said Sunday.
Gov. Dave Heineman "contacted me and he said this is another unfunded federal mandate and it's going to stress the state budget, and I agreed with him," said the Nebraska Democrat, who was himself a Nebraska governor in the 1990s. "I said to the leader and others that this is something that has to be fixed. I didn't participate in the way it was fixed."
Democrats in the Senate won a crucial test vote on President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, putting them on track for passage before Christmas of the historic legislation to remake the nation's medical system and cover 30 million uninsured.
All 58 Democrats and the Senate's two independents held together early Monday against unanimous Republican opposition, providing the exact 60-40 margin needed to shut down a threatened GOP filibuster.
The vote came shortly after 1 a.m. with the nation's capital blanketed in snow, the unusual timing made necessary in order to get to a final vote by Christmas Eve presuming Republicans stretch out the debate as much as the rules allow. Despite the late hour and a harshly partisan atmosphere, Democrats' spirits were high.
The Senate cleared its year-end plate of some must-do work Saturday as it passed a critical budget bill that blends money for the Pentagon with additional help for the jobless.
The early morning 88-10 vote, taken as a blizzard buffeted the Capitol, permitted lawmakers to resume their acrimonious debate on health care, which Democrats now expect to finish by Christmas. The spending measure now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.
It wraps up work on perhaps Congress' most fundamental job: funding the annual budgets of Cabinet agencies and the rest of the government.