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Under special rules, Republicans and Democrats agreed to a 60-vote threshold for any of the votes to succeed Thursday.

Democrats held ranks fairly well in turning back the Republican attacks.

On Mr. McCain’s amendment Democrats held all but two of their members - Sens. Jim Webb of Virginia and Ben Nelson of Nebraska. On an amendment introduced by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland, Democrats won by a vote of 61-39, with the support of three Republicans: Sens. Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine and David Vitter of Louisiana. That offset the loss of two Democrats, Mr. Nelson and Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, on that vote.

Ms. Mikulski seemed miffed by Mr. Feingold’s vote. She was overheard telling colleagues on the floor: “He won’t listen. He doesn’t like the way I pay for it.”

After the other votes were complete, all 100 senators voted for an amendment that urges the government to protect Medicare and not reduce the program’s basic guaranteed benefits.

Republicans have promised to come back with more amendments on Medicare, including trying to eliminate the bill’s cuts to payments to hospitals, hospices and nursing homes.

Despite losing Thursday’s vote, Republicans saw a political opening. The National Republican Senatorial Committee issued press releases attacking eight Democratic senators up for re-election next year who voted against Mr. McCain’s amendment.

The NRSC said the cuts would ding seniors in each of those states.

But one of their targets, Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, said Mr. McCain’s amendment was “not to protect Medicare but to frighten our nation’s seniors so that they too will oppose health care reform.”

She also bristled against automated phone calls that Mr. McCain taped and that the NRSC used to reach out to voters in Arkansas and other states, arguing against the bill’s Medicare cuts.

The House has passed its own health care bill and is awaiting Senate action so the two chambers can hammer out a final agreement.

With far more procedural tools available to them, Senate Republicans have demanded weeks of votes.

On Wednesday, Democrats vowed to stay in session through Christmas in order to force Republicans to finish the bill this year. With little prospect of help from Republicans, Democrats will have to keep all 60 members of their caucus on board, and private meetings behind closed doors and on the Senate floor are common as leaders try to work out thorny issues with rank-and-file Democrats.