WASHINGTON - Two down, one to go. President Barack Obama's health care overhaul cleared its second 60-vote test in the Senate early Tuesday morning - moving it a step closer to passage by Christmas.
Senate Democrats remained united behind their compromise bill, over steadfast Republican opposition. The motion, to shut off debate and move to a vote on a package of changes by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, passed 60-39.
The final 60-vote hurdle, limiting debate on the bill itself, is expected Wednesday afternoon. That would start a 30-hour countdown to a night-before-Christmas vote on the legislation, which needs only a simple majority to pass.
The Senate has been voting at odd hours since Monday around 1 a.m., because Republicans have insisted on using all the time allowed them under Senate rules to delay the bill. Not to be thwarted, Reid, D-Nev., has refused to postpone action until after the holidays. Hence the unusual schedule. On Tuesday, they started voting at sunrise.
With long hours getting in the way of family obligations - and the outcome now seemingly preordained - senators are getting frustrated. Even Obama has put his planned vacation to Hawaii on hold, saying he wants to be in Washington in case there are last-minute problems in the Senate.
Reid appealed to his colleagues Tuesday to set aside acrimony and reach for some holiday spirit. "I would hope everybody will keep in mind that this is a time when we reflect on peace and good things," he said. If Republicans agree, the schedule of votes could be shortened and senators would go home earlier.
There was still no sign partisan fires had cooled.
GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina denounced concessions won by conservative Nebraska Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson, whose support gave Democrats the 60th and final vote they need. Among other things, Nelson got an agreement that the federal government will pay to expand Medicaid services in Nebraska.
Said Graham: "That's not change you can believe in. That's sleazy." He was interviewed on NBC's "Today" show.
Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa defended the concessions, saying: "The one that's being talked about for Nebraska, it also benefits other states. It's not just Nebraska."
He also said he would vote for the package even if it didn't contain concessions for Iowa. "The principle of this bill overrides everything," Harkin told CBS' "Early Show."