WASHINGTON (CN) – A $626 billion defense bill cleared a Republican filibuster after midnight Friday, when senators voted 63-33 to limit debate on war spending in order to turn attention back to health care.
Republicans have historically supported war funds, but this time they sought to stretch debate on the defense bill, which is currently diverting floor time from the health legislation.
Democrats organized their caucus to overcame the Republican filibuster, even gaining the support of anti-war Senator Russ Feingold. The Wisconsin Democrat said he would not support Republican efforts to derail the health legislation currently before the Senate.
The vote limited senators to 30 hours in debating the $626 billion defense bill, which would pay for exercises in Iraq and Afghanistan to continue through the 2010 fiscal year. If senators do not finish debate before the time elapses, a vote will be held Saturday.
Senators are expected to turn their attention back to health care legislation, which Democrats hope to vote on by Christmas, with reports that they might hold the vote on Christmas Eve.
After it was clear the Democrats would overcome the filibuster, three Republicans — Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, and Maine Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins –voted to advance the defense bill.
The House overwhelmingly passed the bill 395 to 34 on Wednesday.
The legislation also extended unemployment benefits for two more months and for the short-term, extended the USA Patriot Act, the antiterrorism bill that expanded the government’s power to monitor communications, adopted after the September 11 attacks.