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Senate Dems look to close deal on health overhaul

Senate Dems look to close deal on health overhaul

Outnumbered Republicans are vowing to delay passage of historic health care legislation as long as possible after jubilant Democrats locked in the 60th and decisive vote.
Moderate Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson's backing puts President Barack Obama's signature issue firmly on a path for Christmas Eve passage. Democrats will need to show 60 votes on two additional occasions, with the next _ and most critical _ test vote set for about 1 a.m. Monday.
At its core, the legislation would create a new insurance exchange where consumers could shop for affordable coverage that complied with new federal guidelines. Most Americans would be required to purchase insurance, with federal subsidies available to help defray the cost for lower and middle income individuals and families.
The Congressional Budget Office said the Senate bill would extend coverage to more than 30 million Americans who lack it. It also imposes new regulations to curb abuses of the insurance industry, and the president noted one last-minute addition would impose penalties on companies that "arbitrarily jack up prices" in advance of the legislation taking effect.
CBO analysts also said the legislation would cut federal deficits by $132 billion over 10 years and possibly much more in the subsequent decade.
Obama welcomed the breakthrough, saying, "After a nearly centurylong struggle, we are on the cusp of making health care reform a reality in the United States of America."
But, Republicans vowed to fight the bill.
"This bill is a legislative train wreck of historic proportions," the Republican leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell, said at a Saturday news conference. He pointed to cuts to Medicare government benefits for the elderly that CBO said totaled more than $470 billion over a decade. He also said the bill includes "massive tax increases" at a time of double-digit unemployment.
To get Nelson's vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, agreed to a series of concessions on abortion and other issues, then informed Obama of the agreement as the president flew home from climate talks in Copenhagen.
In a concession to Nelson and other moderates, the bill lacks a government-run insurance option of the type that House Democrats inserted into theirs. In a final defeat for liberals, a proposed Medicare expansion was also jettisoned in the past several days as Reid and the White House maneuvered for 60 votes.
Democrats have made a point all year of compromising on difficult issues in the name of the most far-reaching changes in the nation's health care system in generations, and hope to have a bill for Obama to sign before next month's State of the Union address to Congress.
The United States is the only wealthy industrialized nation that does not have universal coverage. Health insurance in the U.S. is provided primarily by employers, but the ranks of the uninsured have been growing due to job losses in the recent recession.