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April 17, 2014

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Obama welcomes ‘historic’ health care advance

Nevada Sen. John Ensign joins GOP senators in effort to fight passage

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Monday welcomed what he called the Senate’s “historic vote” to advance health care reform on a path toward possible passage – but by midday Republican senators had vowed to continue fighting the bill to the final hour on Christmas Eve.

Obama, speaking in brief remarks at the White House, said the Senate “scored a big victory for the American people.”

“By standing up to the special interests -- who've 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,” the president said.

Republicans, however, met behind closed doors to plot strategy that showed no signs of relenting. They have been using all the tools at their disposal to block the bill, and all 40 Republican senators voted against the legislation during the unusual 1 a.m. Monday vote.

Republican senators gave their leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, a rousing applause at the closed-door meeting as they agreed to fight until the end.

“The American people are on our side,” said one Republican aide.

During a lull in the afternoon, as the debate continued in the chamber, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid slipped away to thank the Senate staffers who have been reporting, transcribing and archiving the floor debate.

A small, 15-member staff, the Official Reporters of Debate, has been working around-the-clock alongside senators since the proceedings began on Nov. 30.

These are the people who type the proceedings for the closed-captioning on television, as well as for the Congressional Record.

Some of them have been camped out at a nearby hotel, along with senators and other staff, unable to make the daily drive to the capital because of the weekend blizzard. Holidays for many have been postponed.

“I appreciate your hard work,” Reid told the group as they assembled for his impromptu visit at their modest office up a cramped stairwell in the Capitol.

Past majority leaders have thanked the staff reporters during comments on the Senate floor. But Reid’s visit was the first time a majority leader had stopped by to thank them in person since Demomcratic Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia had been majority leader, which was from 1977-1981.

As the debate continued into the evening, Nevada Republican Sen. John Ensign took to the floor to oppose the bill, saying it will impose new costs and diminish patients’ access to care.

Ensign engaged in an exchange of the floor with fellow Republicans, including Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who also opposes the bill.

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