obama_healthcare.jpgSenate Democrats passed a landmark health care bill early Christmas Eve, handing President Barack Obama a victory on his top domestic priority on an issue that could define his legacy.


The 60-39 vote may usher in near-universal medical coverage for the first time in United States history.

The $871 billion health care reform bill passed after months of heated partisan debate. Every member of the Democratic caucus backed the measure; every Republican opposed it.

If it becomes law, the measure would constitute the biggest expansion of federal health care guarantees since Medicare and Medicaid were enacted more than four decades ago. It is expected to extend insurance coverage to 30 million additional Americans.

The bill now must be merged with a $1 trillion plan approved by the House of Representatives in November. Democrats hope to have a bill ready for Obama's signature before the president's State of the Union address early next year.

Senate Republicans failed to stop the bill even though they utilized almost every weapon in their legislative arsenal. GOP leaders have repeatedly warned that the measure will raise taxes while doing little to slow spiraling health costs.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, was forced to cut multiple deals in recent weeks to ensure the support of every member of his traditionally fractious caucus. Top Democrats needed the backing of all 60 members in three key procedural votes over the past four days to break a GOP filibuster.