WASHINGTON (CNN) - The Senate voted 60-39 Saturday night to proceed with a floor debate on Majority Leader Harry Reid's $848 billion health care bill.
The successful vote to prevent a Republican filibuster against starting debate broke down along strict party lines. All 58 Senate Democrats – along with Independent Sens. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont – supported bringing the measure to the floor. Thirty-nine of the 40 Senate Republicans opposed the motion. Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, didn't vote.
A minimum of 60 votes is required to break a filibuster in the 100-member body. The outcome of the vote was unclear before Saturday afternoon, when Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Arkansas, announced her support for a full chamber debate on health care reform - the top issue on President Barack Obama's domestic agenda.
Lincoln, a key moderate likely facing a tough reelection campaign in 2010, said the issue deserved further debate and consideration. She made clear in remarks on the Senate floor, however, that she opposes several aspects of Reid's bill, including a controversial government-run public option. "Although I don't believe with everything in this bill, I believe it is important to begin debate," Lincoln said. "The issue is very complex. There is no easy fix."
Two other Democratic moderates whose support was considered to be in doubt - Nebraska's Ben Nelson and Louisiana's Mary Landrieu - also announced their decision to back a full debate shortly before the vote.
The procedural vote was a significant victory for Reid and the Obama administration. The House of Representatives narrowly passed a more than $1 trillion health care bill earlier this month. If the Senate manages to pass a bill, a congressional conference committee would need to merge the House and Senate proposals into a consensus version requiring final approval from each chamber before moving to Obama's desk to be signed into law.