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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, December 19, 2009

Reid confident of health bill passage

Advertiser News Services

WASHINGTON After marathon talks, the Obama administration and Democratic leaders appeared near agreement with Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson last night to provide the crucial 60th vote needed for Senate passage of health care legislation.

Majority Leader Harry Reid intends to unveil a final package of changes in the long-debated legislation today "and is confident that it will prevail," his spokesman, Jim Manley, said in a late-night statement.

Nelson had been seeking fresh concessions to restrict access to abortion coverage, as well as more money for his home state.

He told reporters "real progress" had been made, but offered no details.

Reid was slightly more optimistic, referring to "significant progress" in a long day of negotiations involving numerous lawmakers and administration officials.

Democratic leaders said they are cautiously optimistic that Nelson's concerns could be resolved, allowing Reid to begin the lengthy process of ending debate and holding a final vote, which could come at 7 p.m. Christmas Eve.

Meanwhile, Republicans vowed to use every available procedural tactic to keep the debate from advancing.

Partisan tensions in the Senate stretched to a breaking point early yesterday, when Reid barely won the votes needed to close debate on a $626 billion defense spending bill. Republicans tried to filibuster to delay health care, some said but the effort failed 63-33.

According to several Democratic senators, Reid was stunned by GOP opposition to a bill that funds U.S. troops and all other defense activities, having cut a deal with some GOP senators to advance the bill.

Republicans said they had no other choice, arguing that Democrats were rushing the health care bill through the Senate with little scrutiny.

The Associated Press and Washington Post contributed to this report.