Capitol Hill Bureau Chief
Members of the U.S. Senate voted at 1 a.m. Monday morning to end the health care debate and move to a final decision on the legislation by Christmas Eve. The cloture motion was approved 60 to 40 on a party-line vote.
The early-morning procedural vote -- the timing of which was tied to Senate rules and based on when the process had begun -- was a crucial hurdle for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who needed 60 votes to end a Republican filibuster and schedule a final vote on the bill.
With more than a foot of snow still on the ground outside the Capitol from a weekend storm, senators sat at their desks in the Senate chamber and rose to their feet to call out "aye" or "no" as the clerk of the Senate read their names aloud.
Senators fervently debated the bill throughout the day Sunday in the hours leading up to the vote. Democrats hailed the bill as a historic expansion of health insurance to more than 30 million Americans, which would also make health care more affordable to millions more.
Republicans uniformly opposed the bill, and many used their speeches late Sunday evening to criticize the middle-of-the-night vote and the special provisions inserted into Reid's manager's amendment to benefit individual states, including Nebraska.
Reid's last-minute package of changes to the bill included several specific measures to win the approval of Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), the Democrats' last holdout on the bill. One of those concessions includes an amendment tightening restrictions in the bill's language barring federal funding for abortion; another put the federal government on the hook for any expansion -- but only in Nebraska -- in the costs of Medicaid generated by this legislation, which Nelson said would be too expensive for his state.
"Nobody thought it would end this way, with a couple of cheap deals and a rushed vote at 1:00 in the morning, but that's where we are," said Mitch McConnell, the Senate's top Republican. "Americans don't want this bill, they don't like this bill, and they don't like lawmakers playing games with their health care to secure the votes they need to pass it."
The cloture vote is the culmination of months of negotiations, concessions and compromises among the sprawling Democratic caucus for Reid to secure the 60 votes he needed Monday. Following the vote, Democratic senators shook hands and embraced on the Senate floor. As they spilled into the hallway outside of the Senate chamber to leave the Capitol, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said loudly to Reid, "Harry, you should really almost have a drink."