(CNSNews.com) - Medicare legislation cleared a hurdle in the U.S. Senate on Monday when Republicans were able to muster enough votes to block a threatened filibuster from Democrats.
The 70 to 29 vote in the Senate moves the $400 billion bill a step closer to reaching President Bush's desk for his signature. The House of Representatives voted 220 to 215 on Saturday after Bush made several phone calls to assure its passage.
The legislation includes some of the most comprehensive reforms to Medicare since the program was created in 1965. It adds a prescription drug benefit to the program and would also allow seniors to choose private insurance plans.
Democrats have lashed out at the proposal. Three presidential candidates - Sens. John Edwards of North Carolina, John Kerry of Massachusetts and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut - postponed campaign events to return to Capitol Hill to fight the bill.
The bill's leading critic, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), led the fight on the Senate floor. He said the legislation would be detrimental to 9 million senior citizens.
"The proposal damages Medicare and leaves the millions of senior citizens who rely on it without a lifeline," Kennedy said. "It's the first step toward a total dismantling of Medicare. In exchange for destroying Medicare, it offers senior citizens a paltry and inadequate drug benefit."
Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), the Senate's only physician, said the plan would give 40 million seniors access to prescription drugs.
"In my own state of Tennessee, there are nearly one quarter of a million seniors who right now have no prescription drug coverage," Frist said. "There are millions more all across the nation for whom this legislation literally means life or death."
Frist said the cloture vote was only the first of several procedural hurdles he expected from Democrats.
Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said the Democrats would make several "points of order" before allowing the Senate to conclude its work on the bill.
See Earlier Story:
Medicare Bill Is A Thanksgiving Turkey, Conservative Group Says (Nov. 19, 2003)
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