At 1 a.m. this morning, with D.C. still digging out from an historic blizzard, the Senate voted 60-40 along party lines to cut off debate on an expansive health care legislation. After securing the vote of Senator Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska, on Saturday, the Senate appears on track to pass the bill by Christmas Eve. At this point, Senate Republicans are fighting the bill with parliamentary tactics, demanding the full 30 hours of debate allowed under the rules after each filibuster is broken by a vote of 60 senators. Because the storm had severly delayed Amtrak, a government plane was sent to retrieve New Jersey Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez.

"If the Republicans want to exercise every single right they have under the rules, they can keep us here until Christmas Eve, no doubt about it,” Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, told reporters. “But to what end, I ask? To what end? We’re going to have the vote at 1 a.m. that requires 60 votes, and then why stay here until Christmas Eve to do what they know we’re going to do?" But in his closing speech, Republican Senator Mitch McConnell blamed Democrats for the 1 a.m. vote: "If the people who wrote this bill were proud of it, they wouldn’t be forcing this vote in the dead of night." McConnell's remark prompted laughter from Democratic senators, including majority leader Harry Reid, the Times reports.

Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, said, "There is nothing inevitable about this. The only thing I think inevitable about it is in the light of the unpopularity of what is being jammed down the throats of the American people, there will be a day of accounting. We don’t know when that day of accounting will be. Perhaps the first day of accounting will be Election Day 2010." And Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, declared, "The historic blizzard in Washington yesterday was a perfect symbol of the anger and frustration brewing. I don’t know of one Republican who is going to vote for this. If you can’t get 75 to 80 votes on something that is this important for this much reform, we should start over and do it on a step-by-step basis."

Victoria Reggie Kennedy, widow of the late Senator Ted Kennedy, greets Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid after the vote. (AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)
The late Senator Ted Kennedy's widow, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, was present in the front row of the spectator gallery to watch the vote. In cutting off debate, Reid insisted, "This is not about politics. This is not about polling. It’s about people. It’s about life and death in America. It’s about human suffering, and given the chance to relieve this suffering, we must." After the vote, Democrats were ecstatic, and Senator Chuck Schumer reportedly told Reid, a teetotaling Morman, "You're almost going to have a drink."

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office maintains that the $871 billion cost of the bill would be offset by new revenues and cuts in spending, and would reduce future federal budget deficits by $132 billion between 2010 and 2019. The new revenues include a payroll tax for individuals earning more than $200,000 and couples earning more than $250,000, and a new excise tax on high-cost insurance polices. Nearly all Americans would be required to obtain health insurance, or pay financial penalties for failing to do so. (Federal subsidies would be provided to help moderate-income Americans buy private coverage.) If it passes, the Senate bill (read it here!) must then be reconciled with the bill adopted by the House last month, which, unlike the Senate version, includes a public option.