Senate Democrats eye key US health care victory
Washington: Democrats in the US Senate strove to lock down support to prevail in a landmark first test vote of President Barack Obama's top domestic priority, remaking the US health care system.
Adding to their confidence, a wavering Democrat, Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, said he would vote with his party on Saturday while warning he might side with Republicans in subsequent fights.
"We are not assuming a thing. We are working hard to bring all Democrats together for the 60 votes necessary to proceed to this historic debate," Senator Dick Durbin, the party's Senate vote counter, told reporters.
Democrats were increasingly confident they would win a procedural vote a day later on what would be the most sweeping overhaul of its kind in four decades, extending health care coverage to an estimated 31 million Americans at a price tag of about USD 848 billion through 2019.
The White House, which has aggressively courted undecided Democrats, declared the legislation "a critical milestone" on Obama's signature issue and warned "the nation cannot wait another year for health insurance reform."
Democrats needed 60 votes to override any delaying tactics from Republicans and approve a resolution that would formally start the debate -- a hurdle shaping up as the legislation's biggest test to date.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was already looking beyond the early skirmish to win the broader battle by courting a handful of swing-vote, centrist lawmakers to vote in favour of the overhaul itself.
After next week's Thanksgiving holiday break, Reid will speak to individual senators to "make sure they each have some peace of mind about what the bill does and can support it, and if they have a concern, address it," said Durbin.