Senate Democrats cleared the second of three 60-vote hurdles on President Barack Obama's healthcare overhaul on Tuesday, moving the landmark legislation one step closer to passage by Christmas.
For the second consecutive day, Democrats mustered 60 party-line votes to cut off debate on the healthcare reform bill and move toward final passage over unanimous Republican opposition.
The last 60-vote hurdle will come on Wednesday, with a vote on final passage -- which requires a simple majority -- now scheduled for late on Christmas Eve on Thursday if Republicans use all their allotted debate time as they have vowed.
The Senate also passed Democratic leader Harry Reid's 383-page amendment making final changes to the measure, including striking a government-run insurance plan and tightening restrictions on using federal funds for abortions.
Those changes helped secure the 60th vote for Democrats on Obama's top legislative priority, which has consumed Congress for months and sparked intense political brawling.
There is a lot of tension in the Senate, Reid said after the votes. Let's just all try to get along. Let's try to work through this.
Once passed, the Senate bill must be melded with a version passed by the House of Representatives last month in what promises to be a difficult negotiation. Both chambers must approve it again before sending it to Obama for his signature.
The negotiations could be tough, with clashes looming on issues like the government-run plan, which is in the House bill but not the Senate, and competing approaches on how to pay for the changes.
Republicans criticize the measure as an expensive and heavy-handed intrusion into the healthcare sector that will drive up costs, increase the budget deficit and reduce patients' choices.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says the Senate bill will cut the federal deficit by $132 billion over 10 years, but critics argue the revenue increases and cost savings called for under the bill may never materialize.
The overhaul would spark the biggest changes in the $2.5 trillion U.S. healthcare system since the 1965 creation of the Medicare health program for the elderly.
The Senate bill would require most Americans to have insurance, extend coverage to 30 million uninsured and give subsidies to help some pay for it. It would also halt industry practices like refusing insurance to people with pre-existing medical conditions.