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Senate Prepares Thursday Morning Vote on Health Care, Fast Exit for Christmas

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, center, along with Sen. Max Baucus, left, and Sen. Tom Harkin, gestures during a health care news conference on Capitol Hill Dec. 21. (AP Photo)

Senators will be home for Christmas after they agreed late Tuesday to change the schedule to allow an 8 a.m. ET vote Thursday on health insurance reforms that kept the chamber debating in a record-breaking session that hasn't been matched since 1917.

A procedural vote is slated for Wednesday afternoon, and the Senate is planning to hold the final health care vote Thursday morning. The bill appears to have the momentum and support to push it through following months of intense negotiations -- though it looks a lot different than it did when two Senate committees first considered it. 

According to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's office, the last time the Senate spent this many continuous days in session was in 1917 during debate over a declaration of war against Germany.

The war over health care seems to have been about as contentious. The Senate bill cleared a pair of hurdles Tuesday despite several efforts by Republicans to slow down the pace of the legislation, which has been debated every day since the Senate reconvened after Thanksgiving. 

With approval of the bill, the Senate on Thursday will proceed to a vote on passage of the House-passed $290 billion increase in the debt limit. That will need 60 passage.

After that, the Senate will recess until Jan. 19. While Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., a leader in pushing the health insurance deal forward, said President Obama will have the legislation on his desk by the State of the Union address in late January, that leaves little time for a House-Senate compromise. 

On Tuesday morning, the Senate voted 60-39 to shut down debate on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's original health care proposal, showing once again that Democrats have the minimum number of votes necessary to move the bill over GOP opposition. The chamber voted earlier Tuesday morning to approve a measure known as the "manager's amendment," which included all the latest changes to the overall health care bill. That measure needed a simple, 51-vote majority to pass. 

To get all 58 Democrats and two independents on board, Reid, among other things, had to drop a government-run insurance option and a Medicare buy-in and had to increase taxes by $25 billion more than planned, bringing the total tax increases to $518 billion. 

President Obama called the advance of the bill a "big victory" for Americans. He told The Washington Post on Tuesday that the bill does exactly what he pledged it would do. 

"Nowhere has there been a bigger gap between the perceptions of compromise and the realities of compromise than in the health-care bill," Obama said in an Oval Office interview with the newspaper. "Every single criteria for reform I put forward is in this bill."

But Republicans say Obama broke campaign pledges by accepting the package, and suggested the House will have to roll over if the legislation is to reach the president. 

"The House of Representatives will have to basically back down on virtually everything they passed for this to become law," McConnell said.

But Reid refused to discuss any future negotiations, saying only that he's not worried about a compromise right now. 

"We are focused on passing this bill in the Senate. We will worry about subsequent things we have to work on at a later time," he said. 

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the new bill would reduce the deficit by $132 billion over the next 10 years but that does not count the so-called "doctor fix," a yearly repeal of planned cuts in doctor reimbursements under Medicare, which was dropped from the bill. That would have cost $240 billion over 10 years, erasing the savings currently in the bill. The CBO also wrote downward the expected deficit savings in the next 10 years of the program.