Washington (CNN) – Senate Republicans - who had vowed to keep the Senate in session late on Christmas Eve, and possibly even Christmas Day - relented Tuesday and agreed to a final vote on health care legislation at 8 am on Thursday, Dec. 24.
Their decision comes after losing several key votes to Democrats that signaled the health care overhaul would eventually pass the Senate.
"There were extensive conversations about how do we keep the time we need to expose the deficiencies of this bill and, of course, the sweetheart deals that produced it, but yet show respect to people and their families, let them get home at least in time for Christmas Eve," Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said in a CNN interview.
The early vote would also allow senators to flee Washington ahead of a developing winter storm out West. One GOP source said travel plans of about half the Republicans in the Senate were threatened by the looming snowstorm.
A collective sigh of relief could be heard from senators and staff across the Capitol as word spread the final vote would be 11 hours earlier than anticipated. Even some GOP senators who strongly oppose the health bill acknowledged they didn't want to spend Christmas in DC.
One of them, Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski told CNN Radio she hoped to make the long journey home in time to attend midnight Mass with her family. "I am who I am because of my family," she said.
Republican leaders pointed to a consolation prize of sorts, an agreement they secured from Democrats to hold a debate and vote on the politically thorny issue of increasing the nation's debt limit right around the same time as President Obama's State of the Union address.
But that was not enough for conservative Erick Erickson of the blog RedState. "Mitch McConnell surrenders," he tweeted.