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The Senate has just entered its long glide toward passage of health care legislation. Majority Leader Harry Reid has filed for cloture on his manager's amendment to his reform bill, as well as to the reform package, and the shell bill it will be attached to. He then "filled the amendment tree" on health care bill, preventing it from being further amended beyond the amendments in his manager's package.

All of that is a really technical way of saying: the clock is running. In the coming days, the Senate will hold a series of votes, likely spaced about 30 hours apart, which will culminate in passage of health care legislation--unless, of course, Reid does not in fact have 60 supporters, as he says he does.

We'll be there at every step of the process.

RNC Chairman Michael Steele released the following statement today about the Senate health care bill. Here's the full text:

Today we learned that Harry Reid's backroom deals and closed-door meetings have led to a health care bill that will cost American taxpayers nearly a trillion dollars. And get this: Harry Reid and the Democrats are celebrating. While they claim victory, the American people will be faced with higher taxes, increased premiums and cuts to Medicare. They are ramming this government-run health care program through Congress - when Americans don't want it, and our country can't afford it. At the beginning of this debate, eight 'moderate' Democrats insisted that Harry Reid pledge to allow senators and the American people 72 hours to read the full legislative text and CBO score prior to voting. A number of those Democrats remain uncommitted to this bill - now is their chance to keep their word. Any so-called 'moderate' Democrats who try to use this CBO score as a fig-leaf to hide their vote to expand government and increase Americans' health care costs, while denying the American people time to read and consider this bill, will quickly learn their constituents will not be fooled.

President Obama said compromise is necessary on every piece of legislation, and outlined bits of the new Senate health care deal he said makes it much stronger.

In a brief statement to reporters a few hours as Senate Republicans forced the reading of the 383-page amendment containing the final deal, Obama said the nation stands "on the cusp" of big change.

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In the House health care bill, consumers who receive federal premium subsidies would be forbidden from buying any insurance policy that covers abortion. That provision--the so-called Stupak amendment--threatened to blow up health care reform. Originally, it's the language Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) wanted to see in the Senate health care bill. In the end, he didn't get that.

But what he did get might still draw the ire of pro-choice activists and legislators. According to a senior Senate leadership aide, under the Nelson compromise, "[i]ndividuals receiving subsidies will have one premium that they pay with two distinct transactions."

Put another way: If you're buying insurance with help from the government, and the policy you want to buy covers abortions, you have to write two checks (or authorize two credit card transactions, etc.) for your plan. If the plan costs $1000 a month, and the insurer plans to sequester $50 to put into a pool that covers abortions, you have to make one payment of $950 and a separate payment of $50.

So far, leading pro-choice Democrats in the Senate say they can abide by that. Here's Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) Patty Murray (D-WA):

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The soon-to-be amended Senate health care bill will cost $871 billion over 10 years according to a new, long-awaited report by the Congressional Budget Office.

That's about $22 billion more than the bill was originally expected to cost, before the new changes--including nixing the public option--were offered to the bill. Democrats replaced the public option with a new plan to allow national or multi-state, non-profit insurance plans, regulated by the federal government, to sell insurance on state exchanges.

The CBO has concluded that, on average, premiums will be the same as they would have been if the Senate had the public option, but that the public option saved the federal government more money by putting downward pressure on the premiums of low-cost private plans, which will be heavily subsidized.

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seems confident that he has the 60 votes he'll need to pass health care reform. Asked by a reporter at a press conference moments ago whether his caucus is united to end a filibuster of his bill, Reid joked, "seems like it!"

In order to secure the support of all 58 Democrats, and both independents who caucus with his party, Reid had to make significant concessions to centrists, including eliminating the public option, and tightening the language restricting federal funds from paying for abortion.

He also apparently had to guarantee that the federal government would cover the entire cost of expanding Medicaid in the state of Nebraska--home to Sen. Ben Nelson. Reid insisted today that this Medicaid agreement, contained in the manager's amendment was a "small part" of winning Nelson's support for the legislation, but it's indicative of the sort of political trading that was necessary for Democratic leadership to win unanimous support for the legislation from the caucus.

And it seems to have worked. Reid will need his caucus to stay united for the next several days, and possibly into next month if a health care reform package is to become law. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) told reporters this afternoon that unless the timeline for passage is lengthened into January, she'll likely support a filibuster of the bill.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) confirmed moments ago that he will support the Senate health care bill, which will soon be amended to include new, more restrictive abortion language. But, he says, he reserves the right to filibuster the very final version of health care legislation if it changes significantly when Senate and House negotiators meet to agree upon a single package of reforms.

"Without in any way intending to be threatening--to be more in the more of promising--let me be clear, this cloture vote is based on full understanding that there will be a limited conference between the Senate and the House," Nelson said. "If there are material changes in that conference report, different from this bill, that adversely affect the agreement, I reserve the right to vote against the next cloture vote--let me repeat it--I reserve the right to vote against the next cloture vote if there are material changes to this agreement in the conference report. And I will vote against it if that is the case.

Unlike the so-called Stupak language in the House, Nelson's abortion language would not forbid people who receive subsidy assistance from the federal government from buying insurance policies that cover abortion. However, according to Nelson, the money that pays for each such policy will have to be separated into two pools--one that pays for the abortion coverage, and one for all other services.

We'll get more guidance for you as soon as possible.

Hope Senate clerks brought some water with them to work today.

The clerks are currently reading the 383-page manager's amendment unveiled by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid the morning, word-for-word.

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Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) just told reporters that he and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid shook hands last night at 10:30 p.m. with Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) on an agreement that he would vote for cloture on health care reform, on the basis of the abortion language in the manager's amendment.

For those of you who understand legislative language, the text of the abortion amendment is below the fold.

Sounds like they've got 60.

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