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After months of negotiating, struggling, and agonizing, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) has come off the fence. She does not support the Senate health care bill. That's much to President Obama's disappointment. As recently as this weekend he was trying to bring her into the fold.

"He was trying to solicit my support for this legislation," Snowe told reporters.

But is she out of the picture for good? The answer is: probably. But she's not ruling out voting for the legislation that comes out of negotiations between the House and Senate.

I asked her if she'd ruled out voting for the conference report.

"I have no idea...and I said I would help to play a constructive role in any way that I could," Snowe said. "But I wanted time to be able to modify this legislation. I mean, it really, it, I think it defies logic and reasonableness on this generational change that is transcendent for the President and for Congress, and not to have the opportunity to amend it. I mean it's almost absurd, frankly."

So. Not likely. But maybe!

"The die is cast. It's done," said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), moments after 60 Democrats signaled, with a single procedural vote, that they will stick together to pass health care reform.

As the clerk read the final tally aloud in the Senate chamber, Democrats, seated at their desks, muffled all of their emotions--enthusiasm, anxiety, relief. Sitting at his desk Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) clutched Sen. Roland Burris (D-IL) and Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-DE)--his colleague on either side--by the arms. Members smiled and softly pumped their fists, but in accordance with the rules, the floor was mostly silent.

In the reception room just outside the chamber, Sen. Ted Kennedy's widow Vicki embraced Sens. Chris Dodd (D-CT) and John Kerry (D-MA). Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, standing alone in the corner of the room, shouted a hearty congratulations to Dodd.

"Harry's going to almost have a drink," Schumer joked about the Mormon majority leader.

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By a vote of 60-40, the Senate agreed to end debate on a major package of health care amendments--and by doing so, signaled that the Democratic caucus is unified, and ready to pass a far-reaching reform bill straight down party lines.

The Senate is now expected to hold more procedural votes on Tuesday and Wednesday before finally voting on the bill late Christmas eve. Keep your eyes on TPMDC for all developments.

The result is not really in doubt. Tonight, 60 Democrats and zero Republicans will likely vote to end debate on a package of amendments--stripping the public option, adding stricter abortion language, etc.--to Senate health care legislation.

It sounds, boring, but it's actually highly consequential.

If all goes as planned, the successful vote will be tangible evidence that the Senate is making its final descent towards passing health care reform legislation. All that can stop it is an unforeseen political or procedural catastrophe.

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As I noted yesterday, Democratic aides were ecstatic about a key CBO finding: "CBO expects that the legislation, if enacted, would reduce federal budget deficits over the ensuing decade relative to those projected under current law--with a total effect during that decade that is in a broad range around one-half percent of GDP."

This, they claimed, implied that the health care bill could reduce deficits by as much as $1.3 trillion from 2020-2029--double the first draft of the Reid bill, which, based on a different CBO analysis, leadership aides claimed would reduce the deficit by as much as $650 billion.

Well, they may have to backtrack now.

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That's gotta hurt.

Sen. Russel Feingold (D-WI) has come out in support of the Senate health care bill--but not before placing one of its major failings at the feet of the White House. "[T]he lack of support from the administration made keeping the public option in the bill an uphill struggle," reads a statement from Feingold. "Removing the public option from the Senate bill is the wrong move, and eliminates $25 billion in savings. I will be urging members of the House and Senate who draft the final bill to make sure this essential provision is included."

On the one hand, it's hard to imagine Robert Gibbs taking the criticism sanguinely--the White House has insisted, to an incredulous community of activists, that President Obama did everything in his power to secure a public option. But on the other, this is criticism the White House might secretly be glad to accept in exchange for one of Congress' leading progressives saying he supports the controversial reform bill.

You can read the entire statement after the jump.

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She's been saying Christmas is just too soon for several days now, but today, after Democrats rounded up 60 votes in their own caucus, she made it official. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) will oppose (and filibuster) health care reform.

"Having been fully immersed in this issue for this entire year and as the only Republican to vote for health reform in the Finance Committee, I deeply regret that I cannot support the pending Senate legislation as it currently stands, given my continued concerns with the measure and an artificial and arbitrary deadline of completing the bill before Christmas that is shortchanging the process on this monumental and trans-generational effort," reads a statement from her office.

The news shouldn't come as a surprise to Democratic leadership, but it does bring home the extent to which the survival of this legislation hangs on a bare thread. In the next several days (and, indeed, for several weeks) Democrats need to keep everybody in the party happy enough, or the bill will not pass.

You can read the entire statement below the fold.

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Axelrod: Calling Liberal Opponents 'Insane' Was 'Probably An Unfortunate Choice Of Words' Appearing on This Week, Senior White House Adviser David Axelrod clarified his having called the urge by some liberals to defeat the health care bill, such as from Howard Dean, "insane." "I didn't say he was insane, I want to make that clear. Howard Dean is a friend of mine," said Axelrod. "I have a great respect for him. He is a medical doctor, and I know he feels passionately about that. What I said was, it would be insane to pass on an opportunity to enact the reform that would have such positive impact on our future and on the well-being of families across this country. And I still believe that. It was probably an unfortunate choice of words."

Dean: 'We're Going To Have A 30-Year Battle With The Insurance Industry' Appearing on Meet The Press, former DNC chairman Howard Dean predicted long-term problems for a health care bill without a public option: "We have committed--in this last week of unseemly scrambling for votes, we have committed to go down a path in this country where private insurance will be the way that we achieve universal health care. That means we're going to have a 30-year battle with the insurance industry every time when we try to control costs and try to get them do things. It is not a coincidence, David Gregory, that insurance company stocks, health insurance company stocks, hit a 52-year high on Friday. So they must know something that the rest of us don't."

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AARP announced tonight they will score the upcoming cloture vote on the health care bill as a "Key Vote."

In a letter to all senators, AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond says the Monday 1 a.m. cloture vote will be among those the group tells members about when the next election rolls around.

They also are doing a new ad campaign that focuses on older Americans. It will run through Wednesday in Arkansas, Louisiana, Maine, Nebraska and North Dakota, states that are home to key Democratic senators and one Olympia Snowe (R-ME).

Read LeaMond's letter after the jump.

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A number of key pro-choice Democrats--including Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Patty Murray (D-WA)--have said they can get behind the new abortion compromise in Senate health care legislation.

Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA), author of an early abortion compromise that would have required insurance companies to segregate federal and private dollars, and to finance abortions through the latter pool, is disappointed, but ultimately supportive.

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