This could be a critical week in the national health care debate as Democrats aim to deliver reform by Christmas. Senate Democrats in Washington, D.C. have mustered the required 60 votes to stop a Republican filibuster of a health care reform bill, clearing the first of the remaining parliamentary hurdles before the massive bill can be passed. The reform measure has been watered down to attract centrist Democrats and independents, which has angered some more liberal Democrats. Notably, the so-called "public option" - government-run health insurance to compete with private plans - was a major point of contention until Republicans forced its removal from the bill. Instead, H.R. 3590 contains a "public option lite," which allows individuals to buy private insurance plans overseen by the government. Democrats can push the bill through with their 60 votes, but dropped support from even one senator could stall or kill the bill.

So what's at stake? Not much - just the future of health care as we know it. Democrats say the sprawling, 2000-page bill would provide quality, affordable health care to 31 million Americans, while Republicans say the bill would result in higher taxes, higher health care costs and longer lines at the doctor's office.

What does H.R. 3590 do? The Congressional Budget office summarizes it this way:

Among other things, the legislation would establish a mandate for most legal residents of
the United States to obtain health insurance; set up insurance exchanges through which
certain individuals and families could receive federal subsidies to substantially reduce the
cost of purchasing that coverage; significantly expand eligibility for Medicaid;
substantially reduce the growth of Medicare’s payment rates for most services (relative to
the growth rates projected under current law); impose an excise tax on insurance plans
with relatively high premiums; and make various other changes to the federal tax code,
Medicare, Medicaid, and other programs.
(PDF)

There's a lot to digest in this bill, and Republicans may have enough parliamentary options to delay its passage until after Christmas, but it's unclear if they can strip away support when the votes are cast. There may be24 inches of snow on the ground in D.C., but things are definitely heating up.

See the bill here: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c111:H.R.3590.as:

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