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Sweeping Health Care Reform Measure Clears First Senate Hurdle

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Health care legislation cleared its first Senate hurdle Saturday night, Fox News reports.

The 60-39 vote makes way for a historic debate after Thanksgiving. The measure is designed to crack down on insurance industry practices that deny benefits and to extend coverage to an estimated 31 million Americans who lack insurance.

The session Saturday was the first round in the battle to advance the bill in the full Senate, with the remaining Democratic holdouts saying they would back at least the measure to open debate on the bill, avoiding an early knockout by Republicans looking to deliver a punishing blow to President Barack Obama.

Sens. Mary Landrieu and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas of Louisiana waited until Saturday to confirm they would vote yes for a floor debate. Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska said Friday he supported moving the bill forward.

All three mentioned that their votes to start debate should not be construed a support for the current bill.

"It is a vote to move forward to continue the good and essential and important and imperative work that is under way," Landrieu said on the Senate floor and Fox News reported. "I've decided that there's enough significant reforms and safeguards in this bill to move forward but more work needs to be done."

Republicans say they haven't backed down.

"This is a vote about whether or not you want to fundamentally change the way health care is delivered in this country in a way which massively expands the size of government, the role of government and significantly increases the tax burden, especially for small businesses and cuts Medicare by a dramatic amount of money," Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., told Fox News before Saturday's session began.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called the bill "monstrous" and, citing the Congressional Budget Office, said it would not bring down costs.

The vote to prevent a Republican filibuster against beginning debate broke down along strict party lines. All 58 Senate Democrats -- along with independent Sens. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont -- backed bringing the measure to the floor, CNN reports.

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