Washington (CNN) - In its first votes on amendments to the massive health care bill, the Senate approved a Democratic amendment Thursday to provide women with low cost mammograms and other preventative tests and rejected a Republican counter amendment that sought to prevent government boards from having influence over which screening tests for women would be covered.
The amendments were prompted by the recent uproar over a controversial recommendation by a government task force that some women should not receive annual mammograms to detect breast cancer. Democrats wanted to assure women that health care reform won't lead to a rationing of such care and Republicans wanted to make the point that it will.
The votes came on the fourth day of debate on health care reform,, which has been dominated by partisan rhetoric and gridlock. A second series of votes is planned Thursday afternoon on another hot-button issue: whether almost $500 billion in cuts to Medicare in the Democratic bill will mean a reduction of care for the nation's seniors.
A motion by Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain would force the bill back into committee to be stripped of its Medicare cuts. Last year's GOP presidential nominee and other Republicans argue it's impossible to cut that much spending from the Medicare program without hurting seniors.
A counter motion by Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet states that nothing in the Democrats' bill reduces benefits for Medicare recipients. Democrats argue their bill will improve the overall U.S. health care system and therefore strengthen Medicare.
The Democratic amendment on preventative screenings was authored by Sen. Barbara Mikulski. In addition to mammograms, the Democrat from Maryland said it is expected to cover a range of women's health screenings, including those for cervical cancer, post-partum depression, heart disease and diabetes. It passed 61 to 39. Three Republicans voted for the amendment and 2 Democrats voted against it.
The Republican counter amendment was sponsored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-AK. It failed 41-59. One Democrat crossed lines and voted with the Republicans.
Another amendment that could be debated later Thursday is a measure that would ban government funding for abortions, similar to the strict prohibition adopted by the House. Offered by conservative Sen. Ben Nelson, a conservative Democrat from Nebraska, the issue divides Democrats and threatens their ability to get the 60 votes needed to pass a final bill.