Exultant Senate Democrats pushed President Barack Obama's landmark health-care overhaul past a final procedural hurdle Wednesday, setting up a Christmas Eve vote to pass the legislation extending coverage to 30 million Americans.
Democrats voted 60-39 to end a GOP filibuster and move to a final vote Thursday. All 58 Democrats and two independents hung together against unanimous Republican opposition.
It was the 24th day of debate on the 10-year, nearly $1-trillion US bill. It was the third time Democrats have put up 60 votes on procedural measures since Monday. Final passage requires just a simple majority so Democrats should triumph easily.
It will be a big victory for Obama and the Democrats, although the Senate bill will still have to be reconciled with a House-passed version before Obama could sign a final package.
There are some thorny differences between the two chambers, including stiffer abortion curbs in the House bill and a new government-run insurance plan in the House bill that's not in the Senate version.
The sweeping legislation, crafted over months of laborious negotiations, would dramatically remake the country's health-care system with new requirements for nearly everyone to purchase insurance.
The government would provide subsidies to help lower-income people pay for coverage. Unpopular insurance company practices such as denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions would be banned.
The final vote is now set for 7 a.m. Thursday. The last time the Senate voted on Christmas Eve was Dec. 24, 1895, on a military affairs bill concerning employment of former Confederate officers, according to the Senate Historical Office.