WASHINGTON Democrats in the House of Representatives approved President Barack Obama's healthcare overhaul on Sunday and forwarded some finishing touches to the Senate for consideration later this week.
The Senate action would be the final step in a nearly year-long process that has consumed the Congress in political brawling and heavily dented Obama's approval ratings.
The House and Senate approved separate healthcare bills late last year, but negotiations to merge them collapsed in January after Democrats lost their crucial 60th vote -- the number needed to overcome Republican procedural hurdles -- in a special Senate election in Massachusetts.
Advocates of the overhaul rallied for a final push before Congress leaves for a two-week recess on about March 26. Here are the last few stages:
* The House approved the overhaul on Sunday in a two-step process. It voted on the Senate's version of the bill, which becomes law as soon as Obama signs it.
That bill includes the main elements of the overhaul, including new exchanges where individuals and groups could shop for coverage and imposing new regulations on the insurance industry.
* The House also approved a separate package of changes to the Senate bill sought by House Democrats. That second bill now goes to the 100-member Senate under budget reconciliation rules that allow it to pass by a simple majority, bypassing the need for 60 votes.
The Senate is expected to take up the second bill this week. Republicans plan to use procedural tactics to challenge many of the provisions under reconciliation rules, which require each provision to have a budgetary impact.
The Senate parliamentarian will be asked to give an opinion on whether the provisions meet those rules. If any are ruled out of order, the entire package must be approved again by the House.
(Reporting by John Whitesides, editing by Deborah Charles and Paul Simao)