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Health care bill faces key test

WASHINGTON — The Senate began its final, frantic steps toward passage of historic health care legislation Sunday as lawmakers and interest groups began turning their attention to the difficult battles over abortion, taxes and the public option that lie ahead. Republicans vowed to resist what they appeared unable to stop.

The Senate early Monday is expected to cut off a Republican-led debate on the Democratic-authored $871 billion health care overhaul, a crucial step that will move the package close to final approval in that chamber later this week.

Once that happens, probably Wednesday or Thursday, the bill will have to be reconciled with the version the House of Representatives passed last month.

In the run-up to the vote, the escalation in rhetoric was remarkable on both sides of an issue that has divided the two political parties for months.

"This process is not legislation. This process is corruption," said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., referring to the last-minute flurry of deal making that enabled Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and the White House to lock in the 60 votes needed to approve the legislation.

Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island responded in near-biblical terms. In a speech on the Senate floor, he said Republicans are embarked on a "no-holds barred mission of propaganda, obstruction and fear. ... There will be a reckoning. There will come a day of judgment about who was telling the truth."

Whatever else it was, the legislation represented the culmination of a year's work for Democrats, pressed by President Barack Obama to remake the nation's health care system.

Democrats said Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson's announcement Saturday that he would vote for the bill gave them the support they needed. Nelson came under strong criticism from Republicans in Washington, who complained that he had won favorable treatment for his home state's Medicaid program. In a bit of political theater, they sought to open up the bill to extend it to all 50 states, but Democrats objected.

Nelson's agreement to an abortion-related change in the bill drew criticism from Nebraska Right to Life, a longtime supporter, and the state's Catholic bishops, who issued a statement that they were "extremely disappointed" in him.

Asked whether Republicans could prevent the bill's passage, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said: "Probably not. But what we can do is continue winning the battle of American public opinion."

WINNERS

■ Cosmetic surgeons, who fended off a 5 percent tax on their procedures.

■ Nebraska, Louisiana, Vermont and Massachusetts. These states are getting more federal help with Medicaid than other states because of negotiations from their senators.

LOSERS

■ Tanning salons, which are getting hit with a 10 percent tax, replacing the cosmetic surgery tax.

■ Progressives. They had to give up on their long-held dream of a new government-run insurance plan.

■ People making more than $200,000 a year. A proposed 0.5 percent increase in the Medicare payroll tax became 0.9 percent in the latest version, putting the tax at 2.35 percent on income of more than $200,000 a year for individuals, $250,000 for couples.

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