Updated from 7:42 a.m. EST

WASHINGTON (

TheStreet

) -- The Senate early Thursday passed a landmark bill to overhaul health care in the United States.

The vote, which passed 60-39, is a victory for President Obama as it meets his No. 1 domestic priority of medical coverage for nearly all Americans.

The bill requires nearly all Americans to buy insurance and forbids insurance companies from denying coverage based on patients' pre-existing conditions.

Fifty-eight Democrats and two independents voted "yes" to approve the legislation. Republicans unanimously voted "no."

The Senate bill has to be merged with a House version. The approval of the final legislation is expected in the new year.

The Senate also voted Thursday to raise the ceiling on the government debt to $12.4 trillion. The vote follows House passage last week and raises the debt ceiling by $290 billion.

The bill permits the Treasury Department to issue enough bonds to fund the government's operations and programs until mid-February. The Senate will vote again on the issue on Jan. 20.

There are significant differences between the two measures but Democrats say they've come too far now to fail. Both bills would extend health insurance to more than 30 million more Americans.

-- Reported by Joseph Woelfel in New York.

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