End in Sight: Senate Prepares to Vote on Health Care Bill Christmas Eve

Democratic leaders clear the way for a final Senate vote.

ByABC News
December 23, 2009, 10:57 AM

Dec. 23, 2009— -- Senate Democrats today cleared the final procedural hurdle on the way to passage of their health care bill.

By a majority vote -- the last needed to end debate on the health care legislation -- Democrats defeated a series of points of orders raised by Republicans, including one that questioned whether the requirement for all Americans to purchase health insurance was constitutional.

"Everyone... should be alarmed," Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, said on the Senate floor while raising a point of order. "I feel duty-bound to question the constitutionality of this bill."

South Carolina attorney general and gubernatorial candidate Henry McMaster, a Republican, said he and his counterparts in Alabama, Colorado, Michigan, North Dakota, Texas and Washington state will investigate whether the special provisions for Nebraska and other states that are included in the Senate health care bill are constitutional.

Nebraska, Florida, Vermont and several other states got concessions in what many Republicans say was a move by the Democratic leadership to buy the support of skeptical senators from those states.

Republican senators initially pledged to fight the health care bill until the last minute. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., struck a deal with Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. -- much to the chagrin of some GOP groups -- to give up 12 hours of debate, putting the vote at 7 a.m. Thursday, Christmas Eve.

"It is now only hours until this Senate will pass meaningful health care reform," said Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont. "It has been a long time coming. ... I thank God that I have lived to see this day."

Senate GOP leaders have conceded defeat but continued today their attack on the partisan health care bill.

Republicans appeared before reporters with their own cost assessment of the bill, charging that it would add an extra $1 trillion to the budget deficit even though the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has said it would reduce the deficit by $132 billion over ten years.

"What we've seen is a colossal manipulation of the accounting scores of CBO and CMS [Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services]," Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said at a news conference today. "If a private company had done this, a president of a private company had proposed such a bogus scoring system, they'd be going to jail."

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., a medical doctor, also assailed the Democrats' plan on today's "Top Line."

"It would be a historic mistake for this country if this is what happens to health care," Barrasso said. "The message [for Republicans next year] should be, the debt is the threat."

Even though the Senate health care bill does not have the bipartisan support President Obama had called for, he threw his full support behind it in an interview with the Washington Post, saying he is "not just grudgingly supporting the bill. I am very enthusiastic about what we have achieved.

"Every single criteria for reform I put forward is in this bill," the president said.