John Whitesides
Reuters
Saturday, November 21, 2009

WASHINGTON — A broad health-care overhaul moved closer to clearing its first U.S. Senate hurdle Saturday when one of two wavering Democrats said she would vote to begin debate on the landmark legislation.

Senator Mary Landrieu ended days of uncertainty when she said she would support a procedural motion Saturday to open debate to reform the US$2.5-trillion health-care system – the bill’s first crucial test vote.

The health-care overhaul, President Barack Obama’s top domestic priority, would expand coverage to millions of uninsured and bar insurance practices like denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions.

A surprise loss in the 8 p.m. EST vote would be a huge setback for Mr. Obama, undermining his legislative agenda and political standing less than a year into his term.

Democrats need 60 votes to approve the motion in the 100-member Senate and have no margin for error — they control exactly 60 votes and Republicans are united in opposition.

Ms. Landrieu and Blanche Lincoln, moderate Democrats from conservative Southern states where the overhaul is unpopular, had been the last uncommitted Democrats on moving the bill to the floor. Lincoln still has not announced her stance.



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