Just when it seemed they wouldn’t have enough votes to pass a key Medicare bill, Democratic senators staged a dramatic coup by secretly whisking Sen. Edward Kennedy into the Capitol on Wednesday to cast his vote and make his first congressional appearance since he was diagnosed with brain cancer in May.

The New York Times:

“Without Ted Kennedy, we wouldn’t have gotten the extra nine votes,” said Mr. Reid, who aides said was laughing uproariously in the cloak room after they pulled off the victory. “They knew the die had been cast, so they gave up.”

Senate officials said Mr. Kennedy had been unhappy that his absence had hurt efforts to block the cuts, which some fear could make some doctors less willing to treat patients on Medicare, a program Mr. Kennedy has championed since he voted for its creation in 1965. They said he contacted Mr. Reid about the possibility of traveling to Washington, and the two senators and their staffs hatched the plan that was cemented Tuesday night.

The bill would reverse a 10.6 percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors who care for millions of older Americans. The cut, required by a formula in the Medicare law, took effect on July 1, though the Bush administration has delayed processing new claims for two weeks, to give Congress time to come up with a compromise.

The bill had overwhelming bipartisan support in the House, where it was passed by a vote of 355 to 59 on June 24.

President Bush and many Republican senators have opposed the measure, in part because it would finance a small increase in Medicare payments to doctors by cutting federal payments to insurance companies that offer private Medicare Advantage plans, as an alternative to the traditional government-run program.

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