Washington (CNN) – Facing year-end holidays and running out of time to discuss health care reform, the Senate voted early Friday to end debate on funding for the Department of Defense.
The motion passed 63 to 33, gaining the necessary 60 percent majority and setting up a final vote on the $636 billion package for Saturday.
The House of Representatives passed the spending bill 395 to 34 on Wednesday. The measure includes money for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but does not include the additional costs expected for the 30,000 U.S. troops the Obama administration announced it will send to Afghanistan next year. A separate request for those troops is expected to come up for a vote next spring.
The defense bill is the last spending measure of the year for both chambers of Congress.
The end of debate on defense spending means the Senate can resume its discussions on health care reform. The body is deeply divided on the issue, making it difficult for Senate leadership to find a consensus.
Those tensions were palpable on the Senate floor early Friday, with Democrats suggesting their Republican counterparts were sacrificing the defense of the nation to stall health care reform.
"Many who are filibustering this defense appropriations bill tonight are filibustering because they want to delay ... the health care reform legislation from being voted on," said Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan.
"So the bill that provides the funding to support our men and women in uniform who are serving on the front lines, often under arduous and dangerous circumstances, to protect our nation is being filibustered to keep the Senate from acting on another unrelated piece of legislation. This is not only unbelievable; it is unconscionable."
But Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl was having none of it.
"Don't blame Republicans for the fact that this bill comes before us a week before Christmas and, therefore, we have to act on it at this point in time. Republicans had nothing to do with that timing," he said.
If the Senate eventually passes a health care bill, its version would have to be merged with the version the House of Representatives passed in November, which includes a public health insurance plan. The final bill would then need approval from both chambers before going to Obama to be signed into law.
Obama and Democratic leaders have said they want the bill completed this year. The Senate would need to finish its work this week to leave a realistic chance of meeting that schedule.