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What happened in the Senate this weekend

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'Don't ask, don't tell' to fade away
  • Senate voted to repeal the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy
  • Democrats are hoping for a "Christmas miracle" on 9/11 health care bill
  • Senate Republicans are against ratifying a new nuclear arms treaty with Russia

Washington (CNN) -- While you might have been finishing up your holiday shopping over the weekend, the Senate was hard at work. Here's what you missed -- and what still remains to be done as the lame-duck Congress comes to a close.

Don't ask, don't tell

History was made on Saturday when the Senate reversed the military's long-standing "don't ask, don't tell" law, which bans openly gay servicemembers from serving.

Eight Republicans and Joe Lieberman, I-Connecticut, joined Democrats to back the bill, which passed by a 65-31 margin. The bill needed a simple majority -- meaning support from 51 of the Senate's 100 members -- to pass.

The House passed the bill by a 250 to 175 margin on Wednesday.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said President Obama will sign the bill into law this week.

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Senate Republicans mounted a counterattack Sunday against ratifying a new nuclear arms treaty with Russia this year, trying to put off a vote that Democrats say they would win.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told CNN's "State of the Union" that Republicans need more time to consider the START accord.

McConnell speaks out on START
Congressional food fight
Optimism over 9/11 bill
Sen. Joe Manchin lands on RidicuList

The treaty would resume mutual inspections of U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals, while limiting each nation to 1,550 warheads and 700 launchers.

Democrats, meanwhile, rejected a Republican amendment to the treaty's preamble that would have added a reference to tactical nuclear weapons, which are not covered by the pact.

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9/11 responders

A health care bill for September 11 rescue workers has been stalled since Thursday, when Senate Democrats failed to win a procedural vote to open debate on it.

On Sunday, though, Democrats said they were hopeful they had pulled off "a Christmas miracle" by changing the bill enough to garner Republican support. Republicans have claimed the price tag is too high.

The James Zadroga 9/11 Health Bill -- named after a deceased New York Police Department detective who had worked in the toxic plume at ground zero -- would provide free medical coverage for responders and survivors who were exposed to toxins after the 2001 attacks.

The House previously passed the bill on a mostly partisan 268-160 vote.

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Government spending

The Senate will consider a proposal to fund the government until March under an agreement worked out by its Republican and Democratic leaders, McConnell said Sunday.

Spending authorization measures are necessary to keep the government running. Both the Senate and the House last week approved an extension until Tuesday of the funding resolution that would have expired on Saturday.

That provided time to reach agreement on a further extension of the spending resolution until March, McConnell added.

Republicans had complained that the Senate bill would have continued excessive government spending, including $8 billion in earmarks, or provisions requested by individual legislators. Their opposition meant certain defeat for the measure, prompting Reid to pull it from consideration last week and instead propose extending the spending resolution.

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A bill that offers a path to citizenship to some illegal immigrants who entered the United States as children failed a procedural vote in the Senate on Saturday.

Known formally as the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, the DREAM Act fell five votes short of the 60 needed to be considered for final passage.

The measure passed in the House earlier this month by a vote of 216-198.

The president vowed to continue to fight for the legislation, which would offer legal standing to immigrants who entered the United States illegally as children under the age of 16 and have lived in the country for at least five years.

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Food Safety

A food safety bill that passed the House and Senate earlier this year before stalling because of a legislative technicality now will likely die because Republicans object to giving it quick approval in the waning days of the congressional session, Senate leadership aides on both sides of the aisle said Friday.

The bill, designed to increase government inspections of the food supply in the wake of recent deadly food-borne disease outbreaks, originally passed with wide support in both chambers.

However, it needs approval again, because it violated a constitutional requirement that bills that raise revenue start in the House.

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CNN's Tom Cohen, Ed Hornick and Kristi Keck contributed to this report.