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Health care debate's endgame

From msnbc.com's Carrie Dann and NBC's Kelly O'Donnell
Senate Republicans won a minor victory early Thursday morning, when they successfully forced two small changes to the health-care "fixes" bill that will send it back the House for a re-vote. But Democratic leaders indicated today that they are aiming for the House to take up the legislation this afternoon, readying a final version of the reconciliation bill for the president's signature before the day is over.

If all goes as planned, Senate Republicans have until around 2:00 pm ET -- when a final vote is expected in that chamber -- to continue searching for amendments and points of order that could force further modifications to the reconciliation bill.

After the Senate votes to approve the bill -- and it will take 51 votes to do so -- the bill returns to the House for final approval. "If [the Senate] finishes their work later today as planned, the House will take up the improvements bill with technical corrections this evening," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said in a statement this morning.

Democrats expect to then bring the measure to the House floor for debate this afternoon, with a final vote between 5:00 pm and 10:00 pm. Lawmakers are eager to skip town after the vote for a two-week spring recess.

One Republican House member has officially retired since Sunday's climactic vote on the health care bill, putting the total number of House members at 430.

Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Ga., had delayed his resignation date in order to ensure an additional GOP vote against the health reform bill. (Deal left Congress to run for governor.)

But because bills in the House require a majority (50% plus one) to pass, 216 votes will still be needed to pass the reconciliation legislation.

The changes to the reconciliation bill so far are very minor -- they don't even deal with health reform but with an attached college grant measure -- so the House is expected to easily reach the 216 threshold and pass the fixes.