The Senate moved another plodding step closer to final passage of health care reform early Tuesday morning -- for this vote, at least the sun was up.
The only suspense associated with the vote focused on Sen. Robert Byrd, the 92-year-old Democrat from West Virginia whose attendance is never guaranteed due to his ill health. When he was wheeled in shortly after 7:00 a.m., Democrats were certain to get the 60 senators needed for three procedural votes.
Because the votes took until after 8:00, however, the timing of the final measure was bumped back to 9:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve. During the vote, party leaders Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), huddled to discuss the schedule for the next two days. Passage is not in question, yet the GOP has insisted on delaying the vote as long as possible.
Reid implored his colleagues to tone down the heated rhetoric and work together to finish the process. "There's a lot of tension in the Senate," Reid observed from the floor. "And feelings are high. And that's fine. Everybody has strong concerns about everything we have done and have to do."
Reid invoked the name of Rodney King in calling for calm. "But I would hope that everyone would go back to their gentlemanly ways and I would hope that -- I was trying to figure out how to say this -- gentlemanly ways. We used to say in the House, 'Gentlewomen.' So, I guess the same here. So anyway, I hope everyone has -- I've said to a number of people, Rodney King -- 'Let's just all try to get along.' That's the way we need to do it," Reid said.
McConnell, following Reid, said that the two are working together to come to an agreement to end a debate that, for all intents and purposes, has already ended. (A good summary of the bill from health care policy expert Timothy Jost is here.) "We are working on an agreement that will give certainty to the way to end this session, and hopefully the two of us together can be recommending something that makes sense for both sides in the not-too-distant future," McConnell said.
Any agreement to finish the bill early, however, hinges on the cooperation of all 40 Republicans. Any one of them can object and slow the process down. All eyes will be on the senator most likely to stand in the way: Tom Coburn, the Oklahoma Republican who recently seemed to call for Americans to pray that Byrd be unable to make it to the next vote.