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« KY Sen Poll: With Bunning Out, GOP Could Hold Seat | Blog Home Page | Obama Praises Senate Health Care Vote »

After Passing Health Care Reform, Senators Hit the Road

By a 60-39 vote margin, the Senate passed early this morning comprehensive health care reform, just before Democrats' Christmas deadline. With the House having already passed its version of the bill, the 7 a.m. Christmas Eve vote begins the next big step in the process -- House and Senate conference.

Now, reconciling the two bills may be at least as difficult as passing them out of each chamber, and it's unclear whether it will happen before President Obama's first State of the Union Address next month or the beginning of February.

This is the closest Congress has ever come to passing health care reform, and Democratic leadership didn't take that lightly in comments following the vote.

"This is a victory for the American people," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), whose colleagues lavished praise on him for guiding the massive bill through a highly partisan Senate. "We have affirmed that the ability to afford a healthy life in America is a right and not merely a privilege for the wealthy."

Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said Reid "navigated the waters" and Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said Reid will always be remembered for making this one of the "shining chapters of the United States Senate." Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he "watched with awe" as Reid sheparded the bill through.

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who presided over the HELP Committee's work on the bill in Ted Kennedy's absence, called this "probably the most important vote that every member of this Caucus will cast."

Kennedy's widow, Vicki, watched the vote from the Senate viewing gallery.

In sub-freezing temperatures in the nation's capital, Cadillacs and Suburbans lined up outside the Capitol awaiting the senators who would scurry out en route to the airport.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) was the first to leave, waving to his colleagues as he jogged out of the chamber. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) skipped the post-vote press conference to make her flight. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), no stranger to snow which is still blanketing the Capitol grounds, was wearing New Balance sneakers during the vote.

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the longest serving member of the House after being elected in 1955, watched the vote from the Senate viewing gallery. Just outside the gallery doors, Dingell said, "I've been waiting for this for 54 years."