Health care bill passes crucial test in Senate

WASHINGTON (WCSC) - One of the largest single bills overhauling the health care system in the US passed its first crucial test in the Senate Monday.

Fifty-eight Democrats and two Independents voted for the bill while the 40 Republicans of the legislative body voted against. This key vote appears to have put President Barack Obama's top legislative priority on a path to passage by Christmas.

In a vote that came just after 1 am, in a snowbound US capital, Democrats unanimously backed the first in a series of three procedural motions to cut off debate and move the bill to a final vote by the night of Christmas Eve.

Republicans said they could not stop the bill Sunday as debate in the chamber started, which would spark the biggest changes in the $2.5 trillion US healthcare system since the 1965 creation of the Medicare health program for the elderly.

The healthcare debate has been the focus of the US Congress for months and has proven to be a legislative quagmire for Obama, with his political clout and agenda hanging in the balance less than a year into his first term.

Democrats were assured of victory on Saturday after their last holdout, Senator Ben Nelson, agreed to a compromise ensuring federal funds would not be used to pay for abortions and sending extra healthcare money to his home state of Nebraska.

Democrats control 60 votes, the exact number needed to overcome united Republican opposition.

Now Democrats will have to put the bill to a final vote, scheduled for Christmas Eve at 7 pm.

If the Senate passes the health bill, it must be reconciled with a version passed by the House of Representatives that may prove to be a difficult fight between the two chambers, especially when considering abortion legislation and the public option.

The merged bill must be passed again by each chamber before it is sent to Obama.

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