U.S. President Barack Obama says the Senate vote to move ahead with final consideration of health care reform legislation is a big victory for the American people. Health-care reform is the top legislative priority for the president.
The Senate voted in the middle of the night to clear away one of the last major hurdles to the bill.
Republicans tried to block the legislation in the Senate on procedural grounds. But Democrats held their ranks and, along with help from independents, rallied the 60 votes needed to end debate and move the bill forward.
The president hailed the Senate action.
"By standing up to the special interests, who have prevented reform for decades and who are furiously lobbying against it now, the Senate has moved us closer to reform that makes a tremendous difference for families, for seniors, for businesses and for the country as a whole," said President Obama.
The goal is to rein in soaring health care costs in a country where most people rely on private insurance to pay their medical bills. The legislation also contains consumer protections and will guarantee health care coverage for the roughly 30 million Americans who are currently uninsured.
Critics claim the effort is moving the United States closer to a government-run health care system. And they say the cost of the Democratic-party drafted legislation is far too high.
President Obama told reporters the critics are mistaken.
"I just want to be clear, for all those who are continually harping about how somehow this is a big spending government bill: This cuts our deficit by $132 billion for the first 10 years and by over a trillion in the second," said Mr. Obama.
As he spoke, weary senators were returning to Capitol Hill with the hope of completing work on their version of the health care reform bill by Christmas.
Dick Durbin of Illinois - the number two Democrat in the Senate - urged Republicans to stop trying to delay the inevitable.
"The 60 votes that were there last night will be there again tomorrow morning," said Dick Durbin. "And they will be there every time needed until this bill is finally passed."
Texas Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison vowed to keep up the fight. She said public opinion surveys show most Americans do not back the legislation before the Senate.
"Americans ask for reform," said Kay Bailey Hutchison. "They deserve it. This bill is not the reform Americans hoped to get."
But while polls show lagging public enthusiasm for the bill, it has won support from the nation's doctors.
The American Medical Association - which represents physicians across the United States -has announced its support for the health care reform measure.
Dr. Cecil Wilson spoke for the AMA:
"The AMA is committed to health system reform that improves the system for patients and the physicians who take care of them," said Cecil Wilson.
Wilson said the AMA would remain engaged as members of the House and Senate seek to reconcile their different versions of health care legislation. That process is expected to begin early next month.