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Updated: 6:40 p.m.
Following a two-hour series of votes to clear the last remaining hurdles to passage of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reids (D-Nev.) health care reform bill, most of the chambers 60 Democrats gathered to toast their impending victory except for a handful of moderates who were conspicuously absent from the celebration.
Missing from the event to which all 60 Democrats were invited by Reids office were Democratic Sens. Ben Nelson (Neb.), Jim Webb (Va.) and Mary Landrieu (La.). Nelson and Landrieu were the last remaining holdouts to agree to Reids bill; Webb, a moderate who generally votes with his partys leadership, has been the subject of attacks from Republicans in the last several weeks.
But Democrats didnt let the absence of their moderates stop them from praising Reid.
Hes exhibited the patience of Job, the wisdom of Solomon and the endurance of Samson, Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said of Reid, adding that, Majority Leader Reid has earned his place in the history of the Senate.
Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), another central figure in developing the health care bill, said Democrats have been blessed indeed to have a leader named Harry Reid, comparing the Nevada Democrat to George Washington during his crossing the Delaware River. Those who have attempted to make our union more perfect have always faced difficult odds, Dodd said before warning that, history will judge harshly those who have chosen the easy path of obstruction.
For his part, Reid called Thursdays final vote on his bill the most significant finish line weve had in decades, and praised his Conferences ability to come together to pass the package. I see this as 60 leaders who stood up against insurance companies and for working families across the country, he said.
Reid has spent the past few months trying to corral his 60-strong Conference behind a bill. And as he faces a brutal bid for a fifth term next year, the stakes couldnt be higher. Health Care Reform will no doubt play a role in his re-election: He will tout it as an accomplishment, while Republicans will use it as fodder to attack the Majority Leader.
In the short term, however, Republicans were more focused on the Christmas Eve vote and refused to move up the tally to Wednesday night, despite the fact that they have no chance at this point of blocking the bill.
Democrats urged Republicans to acquiesce to an earlier vote perhaps even 12:01 a.m. Thursday but to no avail.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who plans to jet to London after the vote to spend Christmas with her husbands family, chatted up Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and others but only succeeded in moving the time up to 7 a.m.
Ill arrive late, she said of her trip.
An effort by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to get Republicans to agree on the Senate floor to a Wednesday evening vote was squashed by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) after he exchanged glances with McCain.
McCain then gave McConnell a thumbs-up.