Washington (CNN) - U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska threw his support Saturday behind the Democrats' health care reform bill, giving the party the crucial backing it needed to avoid a Republican filibuster that would prevent a Senate vote.
The first of a series of votes is set for Monday at 1 a.m. on a so-called manager's amendment, consisting of amendments crafted in the last one and a half weeks by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
At the request of Republicans, the entire amendments package - 383 pages - was being read Saturday, for hours, on the Senate floor.
The Senate could vote on the entire bill - a top priority of President Barack Obama - before Christmas.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, said the latest version of the Senate health care bill "is a legislative train wreck of historic proportions."
"If they were proud of this bill they wouldn't be doing it this way," McConnell said. "They wouldn't be jamming it through in the middle of the night on the last weekend before Christmas."
McConnell said the legislation "will have a profound impact on our nation. This is not renaming a post office. Make no mistake, this bill will reshape our nation and our lives."
Reid and Sen. Charles Schumer of New York spent most of Friday trying to answer concerns by Nelson, who had been the lone Democratic holdout because of his objections to public funding for abortions. According to Schumer, the three men finally shook hands on a deal at 11 p.m.
Nelson's backing gave the Democrats the crucial 60 votes needed to move the bundle of recent amendments, which involved a spate of compromises, to the Senate floor.
"Change is never easy, but change is what's necessary in America today. That's why I intend to vote for cloture and for health care reform," the Nebraska Democrat told reporters.
Cloture is the procedure that allows senators to place a time limit on consideration of a bill or other matter, and thereby overcome a filibuster.
Nelson warned, however, that if there are changes to the health bill when House and Senate leaders meet to resolve their differences, he will withdraw his support. The House has passed a different version of the bill.
Obama said the Senate's health care reform bill would be the largest deficit-reduction measure in a decade.
"We are on the cusp of making health care reform a reality," he said.
"With today's developments, it now appears that the American people will have the vote they deserve on genuine reform that offers security to those who have health insurance and affordable options for those who do not."
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the legislation would offer a decrease in the deficit of $132 billion over the first decade, and more than $1 trillion in the 10 years after that, Obama said at a brief news conference.
The new cost for the revised Senate bill is $871 billion, the CBO said. The previous price tag was $848 billion.
Obama's was one of a flurry of press briefings held Saturday after Nelson's announcement.
Nelson, a social conservative who opposes abortion, did not want taxpayer funds to pay for the medical procedure. One of his main requests was that states that offer insurance offer at least one plan without the abortion option.
Two liberal U.S. senators who had not committed to supporting the health bill also announced Saturday that they would vote "yes" on its passage.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said he changed his stance because the measure now contains provisions for new community health centers. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said he favored the insurance reforms in the legislation.
Neither man is totally pleased, but they told CNN it's a good first step.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, who was involved in some of the talks with Nelson, said she's satisfied that the language of the agreement achieves its goal.
"My goal was to try to reach some compromise so we could move forward on health care, where the basic premise was we could separate federal funds from private funds. I think we achieved that."
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, agreed, saying the deal follows the principles of the Hyde amendment, which prevents federal funds from being used for abortions.
"Anyone who is in the exchange who also gets a federal subsidy because they're poor, if they choose a private insurance policy and want any kind of abortion coverage, they have to write that part of the premium from their own personal funds," the Florida senator said.
The health bill proposes a health insurance exchange for those unable to afford health coverage or don't have coverage. No federal funds could be used to cover abortions for people participating in the exchange, the bill says.
In addition, under national plans that would be administered by the Office of Personnel Management, there has to be, if a state chooses those, at least one that does not offer abortion coverage.
– CNN's Dana Bash, Brianna Keilar, Craig Broffman and Ben Barrett contributed to this report.
This legislation is a must....nation's need, dire need. Democrats, please pass this much needed health care with public option....do not pay heed at this nasty idiots...i.e., GOP thugs...they rob the nation....my vote for you if you vote before christmas....it is my gift to my people....a law grad...ok...I care for this nation more than any one...god bless our nation, the USA!!!
Bring on through a bad bill before Xmas with late night votes. boy the transparentness is just oozing from thesse guys isnt it. Also is it just me or why is everything just HISTORIC with this administration. its really starting to be just a massive retoric word and lossing on its real meaning.
Nelson proved his real mettle by caving in to his Marxist party! Do know that the Dimwits will get their reward for this sham come Nov 2010...start packing thieves!
Democrat Motto for the country:
"If it aint broke, break it and create new tax to fix."
"if its broke, break it worse and tax more to fix".
"If its now destroyed tax more and blame the republicans".
Another nail in the coffins for every one of these 60 pitiful beaurocrats come re-election day! Nelson is voting against 2-thirds of Nebraskans that put his fat ass in Congress and vehementy oppose this ridiculous bill. Shame on him!!!!
Another win for Big Government and the parasites seeking more federal entitlements. Another significant loss for our Seniors and those of us that will pay dearly for this Liberal attrocity. Harry Reid and most Congressional Democrats are sealing their fates with every socialistic bill they pass. The American people have been overlooked in the thirst for political control of our lives.