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Sens. Harry Reid (D-NV), Max Baucus (D-MT), Chris Dodd (D-CT), and Tom Harkin (D-IA) gave a press conference after a 60-39 Senate cloture vote allowed the final health care reform vote to proceed tomorrow morning. They were excited, to say the least.

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The Senate just cleared its next-to-last procedural hurdle before passing its version of the health care bill.

In a predictable 60-39 vote, senators invoked cloture on final passage of the bill, allowing for a final vote tomorrow morning at 7. Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) is absent.

It's possible they will vote earlier, we're keeping a close eye on those negotiations.

Before calling for the vote on an issue Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) raised about the bill's constitutionality, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Republicans have tried to "obstruct and delay" at every turn.

Republicans parliamentary gambits have slowed down the inevitable passage and tomorrow's vote is the first to be held on Christmas Eve since Dec. 24, 1895.

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Yesterday, the blogosphere was abuzz with a caller to C-Span who was quite alarmed while speaking to Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), wondering if his prayers to strike Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd dead had instead hurt Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe, who'd missed a morning procedural vote on Health Care Reform. We've found some evidence that this could have been a prank. And even if the caller is on the level, it might not the first time he's said some pretty weird stuff on a C-Span call-in.

Back in April, a man with a very similar voice, and also from Georgia, called in and asked David Brooks if he, as a sophisticated New Yorker, would help to bring down the black man in the White House. Brooks was laughing in disbelief at what he was hearing.

Both calls had a certain prankish, over-the-top quality to them. The caller to Brooks said he was at the Jekyll Island Club -- a very high-class location in Georgia -- but sounded more like a caricature of an unsophisticated, racist Southerner. The caller to Barrasso referred to his fellow conservative activists as a "tea bag group," a term that many genuine Tea Partiers regard as an offensive epithet. Both callers got worked up emotionally -- energy and ambition in the Brooks caller's case, and urgency and panic from the Barrasso caller.

Are they the same man? Were they serious calls or pranks -- and with the current state of right-wing activism, how can you tell the difference? We here at TPM report, and you folks...well, we wouldn't want to violate any trademarks. But listen to both and tell us what you think.

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As I noted yesterday, Democrats are starting to talk up the idea that moving the implementation of key benefits forward might be one way to ease a final health care bill through the House of Representatives. The caveat, of course, is that the earlier the benefits kick in, the more the bill will cost in the Congressional Budget Office's initial 10 year window.

This afternoon, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) says that could create problems.

"We'll just have to look at the numbers," Nelson told reporters. "I think that's what's the question."

According to CBO, the current legislation before the Senate will require $871 billion in federal spending over 10 years. Asked whether he'd set a ceiling for the cost of the final health care bill, Nelson left some wiggle room. "871-ish," he said.

Rep. Joe Sestak said he will keep pushing House leaders not to fold under pressure from the Senate to make the health care bill more conservative.

"It can't be a roll over," Sestak (D-PA) said on MSNBC's The Ed Show last night. "This agenda is not over, yet."

Several progressives were holding their powder as leadership predicted they would do just that and roll over to pass a compromise bill that does good and ends the intraparty fighting.

But Sestak wrote Speaker Nancy Pelosi a letter saying the Senate bill lacks many key elements central to reform.

"It is not acceptable for the House to simply accept the compromises made to appease members of the Senate, especially when those compromises weaken the bill at the expense of working families," he wrote. "We urge you to fight to preserve the best components of both bills, House and Senate, in Conference Committee."

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Rep. Parker Griffith (R-AL), who announced yesterday that he was switching parties, said today that he left the Democratic party because he was no longer welcome there.

"I felt the far left tilt of the Democratic party no longer welcomed me or my ideas," Griffith said today on Fox News.


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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid just moved the final vote on the Senate health care bill one hour earlier, to 7 a.m. Thursday.

He made the request for unanimous consent for the change -- citing forecasts for major ice storms in the MidWest -- and no one objected.

During the debate today on the health care bill, Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) declared that Congress is not empowered by the Constitution to reform health care at all -- and that Senators are violating a "solemn oath" by passing such a bill.

"When each one of us comes to this floor after we're elected, we raise our right hand, put our hand on the Bible, and take an oath to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States. We in no way take an oath to reform health care, or do anything else that we think is good to do," said Ensign. "Anything on health care or any other good provision that we want to do around here has to fit within the powers that are listed within the constitution of the United States. That's the oath, the solemn oath that each and every Senator takes. And that's what each and every one of us needs to think about when we're voting on this constitutional point of order."

Ensign, whose presidential aspirations were derailed earlier this year due to an extra-marital affair, does appear to have a point on this one. After they are elected, Senators walk down the aisle of the chamber and perform a serious ceremony, committing themselves to the bonds of their office. And breaking those vows is not to be taken lightly.

Yesterday we told you about tea party activist-cum-neurosurgeon David McKalip's new attempt to convince progressives to unite with the Right to kill health care reform. Last night, Rachel Maddow examined the question of where exactly McKalip, who famously mass-emailed a picture of President Obama as a witch doctor, fits in the ever-changing anti-reform bill caucus.

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