[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/POLITICS/12/22/911.bill/t1larg.1340.sept11.wtc.gi.jpg caption="In the years since 9/11, respiratory and mental health issues have been a concern for firefighters and others." width=300 height=169]
Ted Barrett and Dana Bash
Washington (CNN) - A compromise bill to provide free medical treatment and compensation to first responders of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack won final approval Wednesday from the House and Senate, sending it to President Barack Obama to be signed into law.
The bill passed on a voice vote in the Senate, and then passed on a 206-60 vote in the House on the final day of the lame-duck session of Congress.
Jubilant Democrats hailed the last-minute approval as a triumph for firefighters, police officers and other emergency personnel who put themselves in harm's way to help others in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attack.
Updated: 6:05 pm
Update: Unable to secure needed Republican support, Senate Democrats decided Wednesday to postpone a planned make-or-break vote on starting debate on repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that bars openly gay and lesbian soldiers from the military. Watch AC360° tonight at 10pm ET for the latest.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/12/08/art.getty_troopnoface.jpg]Dana Bash and Ted Barrett
Senate Democrats indicated they would hold a make-or-break vote Wednesday on starting debate on repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that bars openly gay and lesbian soldiers from the military.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, told reporters he is talking to one moderate Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, to try to secure her support. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama has been calling senators in both parties to urge their support, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said.
"I think we are very, very close to seeing that repeal pass," Gibbs told reporters, adding: "The president is encouraging Democrats and Republicans to get behind that repeal."
To open debate on the measure, Senate Democrats need 60 votes to overcome a Republican filibuster. Currently, the Senate Democratic caucus has 58 votes - 56 Democrats and two independents - though it was not clear if every one of them would support a repeal.
For example, newly elected West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who is completing the term of the late Sen. Robert Byrd, told CNN he was uncertain how he would vote on the issue. Therefore, the Democrats may need more than two GOP senators to join them in voting to open debate.
However, most Senate Republicans oppose repealing "don't ask, don't tell." In addition, all 42 of the GOP senators have pledged to block action on any measure before the chamber deals with extending Bush-era tax cuts and authorizing government spending for the rest of the fiscal year.
The Democratic strategy appeared to be to try to persuade Collins to vote for opening debate on the measure so that the two other Republicans who also have expressed support for a repeal - Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska - also might do so. Murkowski announced her support for a repeal in a statement Wednesday.
Aides to Reid said that with little time remaining in the lame-duck session of Congress and Christmas recess approaching, the vote Wednesday would almost certainly be the last chance to consider the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" this year.
Democrats are pushing for action now because the new Congress in January brings a Republican-controlled House and a diminished Democratic majority in the Senate, which will make repealing "don't ask, don't tell" more difficult.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://cnnpoliticalticker.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/t1larg-uscapitol-1207.jpg?w=640 width=300 height=169]Dana Bash and Ted Barrett
Senate Democrats are openly expressing their disappointment, and in some cases outrage, with the President Obama's tax cut deal.
And what is most striking walking the hallways and talking to senators is that the palpable frustration is coming not just from liberal Democrats, but moderates as well.
To be sure – despite their dismay – most Senate Democrats are saying they haven't yet decided how they will vote, because they are waiting for more details.
Still, Democrats are telling us they're not only unhappy with the president for breaking a promise that he and others made not to extend Bush-era tax cuts for wealthier Americans, they're also expressing concern about the overall cost of the plan and its impact on the deficit.
"I still seem puzzled at the president's enthusiasm, and the Republicans, giving an income tax break for people making over $1 million. We're borrowing $46 billion to do so," said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana, a moderate Democrat.
Landrieu also chastised the president for dealing with Republicans without adequately consulting his fellow Democrats, and said she's worried this is the way the next two years will be.
"He's enthusiastic about this new arrangement dealing with the Republican caucus that stated, according to their leader, their number one objective is to unseat him. I can understand trying to appeal to independent voters. I do that myself. I think it's very important. But this sort of enthusiasm for caucusing with Republicans – and he didn't even, literally, didn't even speak to the Democratic caucus. Not any of it. Not the liberal group, not the moderate group, not the conservative group," said Landrieu.
New Jersey Democrat Frank Lautenberg, a liberal, accused the president of "capitulation under pressure."
"I think capitulation under pressure is something that has, in my view, the wrong message and will have the wrong outcome," said Lautenberg.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/POLITICS/11/01/senate.at.stake/story.reid.gi.jpg caption="Senate-watchers are pondering what will happen if Majority Leader Harry Reid loses his seat in Tuesday's election." width=300 height=169]
CNN Congressional Producer
Editor's note: Ted Barrett has covered Congress for CNN for 11 years.
Washington (CNN) - Senate Democrats learned this year how difficult it was to pass bills over a determined GOP minority. Now they are bracing for possible legislative gridlock as Republicans are poised to pick up several seats in Tuesday's election.
Any expectations that a more evenly divided Senate might actually lead to cooperation and compromise could be unrealistic. The animosity and distrust between the two parties is already thick, and likely to get worse as the 2012 presidential campaign gets under way.
President Obama regularly talks about bringing the sides together - doing so might allow him to hash out deals this year on energy, education, trade and the debt - but Republicans are highly skeptical he will make compromises. "He will go into campaign mode and try to make us look evil," a senior GOP leadership aide predicted, echoing the broad sentiment of Republicans on the Hill.
Democrats are equally doubtful that Republicans will want to work with them. For starters, they think newly elected Tea Party-backed senators, who have promised to curb Washington's influence, will press Republican leaders not to cut deals.
"Many Republicans appear to be opposed to the very idea of coming here to legislate," said a top Senate Democratic leadership aide.
CNN Congressional Producer
Supporters of a long stalled bill to bolster the safety of the nation's food supply are hoping the widening egg salmonella crisis will give them momentum to pass their bill in the Senate as early as next month.
The bipartisan bill would give new powers and resources to the Food and Drug Administration to crack down on risky food suppliers in the United States and abroad. For instance, in the current situation, the FDA could quickly order direct recalls of suspected eggs instead of relying on voluntary recalls by the manufacturers.
Dana Bash and Ted Barrett
CNN Capitol Hill Team
Two senior Democratic sources tell CNN senate Democrats are headed towards dropping the compromise idea to allow 55 to 64 year-olds to buy into Medicare because of opposition from Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman.
"It’s what the White House wants and there aren’t many other options that allow us to finish by Christmas," said one source.
Senate Democrats had an emergency meeting Monday night to discuss this issue, which threatens to derail health care.
Although a final decision was not made at Monday night’s meeting, a second Democratic source said it’s likely a final decision could be made at meeting Tuesday of all Democrats with the President at the White House.
“I think there is a fundamental understanding of the direction we’re going in, “said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.
Before the meeting, liberal senators Tom Harkin of Iowa and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia indicated that the so-called Medicare buy-in would likely be dropped, and while they didn’t like that, they suggested they would support a health care bill anyway.
"If he (Lieberman) is absolutely opposed to it, it looks like we won't have it," said Harkin.
"There is still good stuff in this bill for changing the paradigm of health care in America," he said.
“Democracy isn’t written to say that you get exactly a perfect system, “ said Rockefeller. “I mean, we are where we are. That’s the ultimate bottom line.”
The Medicare buy-in concept was intended to appease liberals upset that Democratic leaders were dropping a public option.
But that ran into a wall Sunday when Lieberman said he would support a GOP filibuster to block health care if the Medicare provision was in the bill.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/10/13/senate.health.care/art.capital2.gi.jpg caption="The Democratic leadership in both legislative chambers soon will work to meld health care legislation."]
Ted Barrett and Ed Hornick
The Senate Finance Committee began final deliberations on its $829 billion health care reform plan Tuesday, setting the stage for likely passage of the sweeping legislation.
Once the committee clears the bill, however, the focus will quickly shift to the closed doors of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's ornate Capitol suite.
Behind those doors is where the Nevada Democrat must merge the conservative-leaning Finance Committee legislation with a more liberally drawn bill approved by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
The Finance Committee debate is expected to go all day Tuesday before a vote. The committee - with 13 Democrats and 10 Republicans - is expected to pass the legislation. It's unclear whether the bill will get any Republican support, though Sen. Olympia Snowe, a moderate from Maine, has signaled she is willing to work with Democrats.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/03/27/art.getty.mitch.mcconnell.jpg caption="Sen. Mitch McConnell also said he doesn't mind the 'party of no' label congressional Democrats and the White House try to pin on Republicans."]
CNN Congressional Producer
Despite crushing defeats in the last two elections, Senate Republicans have new “energy and enthusiasm” aimed at winning back the majority, says their leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Why the turnaround?
“President Bush had become extremely unpopular, and politically he was sort of a millstone around our necks in both ’06 and ’08,” McConnell said in a roundtable with reporters Friday. “We now have the opportunity to be on offense, offer our own ideas and we will win some.”
Many of those ideas get presented as amendments to Democratic bills which, though usually defeated, can still draw attention to GOP policy alternatives and often force Democrats to take difficult votes.
“They become the way you chart the course for a comeback,” McConnell said. “Which in this country, always happens at some point.”
“The pendulum swings,” he said.
Interestingly, McConnell said many of the clever ideas for amendments come from conservative think tanks and other Republican thinkers off Capitol Hill.
“Newt Gingrich, for example, has an idea a minute. Many of those are quite good. Many of those become amendments,” he said.
McConnell also said he doesn’t mind the “party of no” label Congressional Democrats and the White House try to pin on Republicans.
“I don’t feel anyone should be apologetic for opposing a bad idea,” McConnell said. “I’m not fearful of an effort to demonize dissent,” he said.
Dana Bash and Ted Barrett
CNN Capitol Hill Team
The auto bailout bill is set to die in the Senate Thursday night after the collapse of talks aimed at fashioning a compromise between Democrats and Republicans, sources said.
A cloture vote - requiring 60 votes to end debate and move to a vote on the actual bill - will be held shortly and is expected to fail.
Dana Bash, Ted Barrett and Deirdre Walsh
CNN Capitol Hill Team
House Democratic leaders and White House negotiators finalized an agreement on a 15 billion dollar auto bailout, and House Democratic leaders are moving to bring it to a vote.
The agreement between negotiators was finalized Wednesday morning after Democrats agreed to a Republican demand that they drop a provision blocking Detroit from filing lawsuits on greenhouse gas emissions.
House Democrats are meeting this morning to discuss the measure. House Democratic leaders are hoping to hold a vote Wednesday, but the timing is still up in the air.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced “it appears unlikely” that the Senate will vote today on the auto bail out legislation. That is because the final text of the 25-page bill is not completed and Senate Republicans have told him they want to study it before deciding how to proceed.