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Obama Hails Historic Senate Health Care Vote

US president acknowledges toughest part of the process may lie ahead, melding the House and Senate versions of the sweeping health care reform bill into one.

U.S. President Barack Obama has hailed the Senate vote on health-care reform, calling it a landmark piece of legislation.  The measure is a top priority for the Obama administration.

On Christmas Eve, the Senate gave President Barack Obama a very welcome gift.

"In a historic vote that took place this morning members of the Senate joined their colleagues in the House of Representatives to pass a landmark health-insurance reform package," President Obama said.

It was a big victory for the president.  In brief remarks at the White House about an hour after the Senate vote, he spoke of the impact reform will have on the American people.

"With today's vote we are now incredibly close to making health insurance reform a reality in this country," said Mr. Obama.  "Our challenge now is to finish the job."

He acknowledged the toughest part of the process may lie ahead; melding the House and Senate versions of the sweeping health care reform bill into one.

"Having passed reform bills in both the House and the Senate we now to have to take up the last and most important step and reach an agreement on a final reform bill that I can sign into law," he said. "I look forward to working with members of Congress in both chambers over the coming weeks to do exactly that."

The House and Senate versions agree on core principles.  In a country where most medical care is provided by the private sector, both mandate health insurance for all.   They also set new rules for insurance companies and provide subsidies to some Americans to help cover the cost of coverage.

But while both the House and Senate bills aim to help the roughly 30 million Americans with no health care insurance, there are big differences in legislative language.  The House wants a government-run health insurance plan to compete with private insurers.  The Senate does not.

Negotiations on compromise legislation will begin in January after Congress and the president return to Washington after the holiday break.

The Obama family will be spending Christmas in Hawaii - the president's home state.  They left the White House shortly after the Senate vote, and plan to return to Washington on January 3.

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