Page last updated at 19:04 GMT, Monday, 21 December 2009

President Barack Obama hails US Senate healthcare vote

Healthcare reform is President Obama's main domestic priority

US President Barack Obama has hailed the Senate's healthcare vote as a "big victory for the American people".

Senators voted in the early hours of Monday to end debate on a compromise bill, putting the legislation on course to face a final vote on Christmas Eve.

President Obama has set health reform as a key plank of his first term.

The legislation, which aims to cover 31 million uninsured Americans, could lead to the biggest change in US healthcare in decades, if approved.

"The United States Senate knocked down a filibuster aimed at blocking a final vote on healthcare reform and scored a big victory for the American people," Mr Obama said.

Acrimonious debate

Tuesday 22 December: vote to approve compromise proposal that would expand coverage to 94% of Americans and reduce the federal deficit by $130bn over 10 years (needs simple majority of 51)
Tuesday 22 December: procedural vote on substitute agreement - a constitutional oddity, aimed at overcoming a rule that prevents the Senate from passing its own revenue-raising measures (60 votes needed)
Wednesday 23 December: vote to approve substitute amendment (simple majority needed)
Wednesday 23 December: procedural vote on the bill as a whole (60 votes needed)
Thursday 24 December: vote on the final bill (simple majority needed)
2010: Senate and House versions of the bill to be reconciled

He said the Senate showed it could "stand up to the special interests" and move the nation closer to a health insurance overhaul for the country as a whole.

He said the bill would reduce the deficit in the long term, countering Republican criticism that the legislation is too expensive.

After a long, often acrimonious debate Senators voted 60 to 40 along party lines to end debate on the bill at 0100 (0600 GMT) on Monday.

Four further votes are scheduled this week on the issue before the final Senate vote on Christmas Eve.

Under the Senate bill, most Americans would have to have health insurance.

Private insurers would be banned from refusing to provide insurance because applicants had pre-existing medical conditions.

If passed, the Senate bill would have to be reconciled with a more expansive one passed last month by the House of Representatives.

Key differences in the House version include a government-run health insurance plan, or public option, and how to pay for the reform.

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