Senate Democrats managed to push health care reform legislation past a key hurdle on Saturday night, with a cloture vote that will lead to a debate on the Senate floor later this month, the Associated Press reported.
The Senate bill roughly mirrors a health care reform bill that has already been passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, although some major differences would have to be ironed out before a bill could reach the desk of President Barack Obama.
According to the New York Times, the Senate bill seeks to extend health benefits to roughly 31 million Americans who are now uninsured, at a cost of $848 billion over 10 years.
U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) announced the vote Saturday night.
"On this vote, the yays are 60, the nays are 39, three-fifths of the senators duly chosen and sworn having voted in the affirmative, the motion is agreed to," Dodd told reporters.
Prior to the vote, all 40 Republicans were on record as opposing the bill, and the Democrats did not have a single vote to spare, needing every Democrat and Independent who normally votes with Democrats to vote in favor of the motion. Two key Democrat votes were secured on Saturday.
During a long day of debate, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), had appealed to senators to advance the bill to the floor, saying it is their job to debate such a crucial issue.
President Barack Obama has made health care reform a top priority of his administration.
"Tonight we have the opportunity, the historic opportunity to reform health care once and for all," Sen. Max Baucus (D.-Mont.), a chief architect of the legislation, said, according to the Times. "History is knocking on the door. Let's open it. Let's begin the debate."