Senate moves closer to healthcare passage

Senate Democrats took another step toward passing the sweeping healthcare overhaul before Christmas, adopting a package of modifications to their legislation and defeating another Republican-led filibuster early today.

The package includes a series of compromises worked out by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) with other Democrats. Senators approved it, 60 to 39. Then they voted to limit debate, also 60 to 39.

Republican Sen. James M. Inhofe, of Oklahoma, was absent.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who on Saturday became the last Democrat to line up behind the bill, had secured new restrictions on federal funding for abortion, as well as a list of provisions to help his home state and its insurance industry. In return, he provided the 60th vote needed to break the Republican filibusters.

Among the special deals was a federal government commitment to pick up the full cost of expanding Medicaid in Nebraska, to cover all people making less than 133% of the federal poverty level. Other states must split the cost of the expansion with Washington.

Today’s action kept the Senate on track to approve the full healthcare bill on Christmas Eve. Before that happens, a final procedural vote is expected Wednesday.

Because the House passed a different version of the bill, the two measures must be reconciled by a conference committee. The final bill will come up for a vote again in both houses and, if it passes, it will go to President Obama for his signature.