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Democrats Hope to Start Clock on Health Bill by Saturday

Assuming they can rally all 60 members of the Democratic Conference, Democratic leaders could start the clock Saturday on the time-consuming cloture motions needed to kill a filibuster of the health care reform bill. Under the most optimistic of scenarios, Democrats would need at least six days to overcome the procedural roadblocks Republicans are expected to raise. However, GOP Senators indicated Wednesday that they are prepared to employ more dilatory tactics in their quest to deny Democrats a win before Christmas. The Senate appears on track to pass the Defense appropriations measure by Saturday, but questions remain about whether the health care reform bill can be completed by Christmas.A partisan procedural dustup on Wednesday threatened to undercut Senate Democratic leaders’ plans for passage of both bills, but leaders now say there is still a chance of getting health care finished before Dec. 25.Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) filed a motion to end debate, or invoke cloture, on the Defense bill shortly after the Senate received the measure from the House. It is the last of 12 must-pass appropriations bills to wend its way through Congress. Besides including billions in funding for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, the measure includes a renewal of the controversial PATRIOT Act and an extension of jobless benefits, among other things.The Senate is expected to vote Friday on the cloture motion with final passage coming Saturday. Following that vote, the Senate will return to the health care debate. Republicans remained committed to delaying the health care bill as long as possible, but it was not clear Wednesday evening whether the procedural tools at their disposal would be enough to prevent Democrats from subverting their filibuster attempts.

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