GOP Delay Tactic Could Be First Shot In Protracted Senate Health Bill Battle
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., used a procedural maneuver during the Senate's health care debate Wednesday to require that a 767-page amendment be read aloud before discussion could begin. The reading delayed the Senate's consideration of the measure for three hours before the amendment's sponsor, Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, withdrew it. That may only be the beginning of a full-fledged campaign by opponents to delay the legislation.
"Senate Republicans launched an offensive Wednesday to stall the debate, signaling their intent to use every procedural tool necessary to prevent passage before Christmas ," Politico reported. "Sanders cut off the reading in the third hour by withdrawing his bill," which would have established a government-financed health care system. "The GOP move appeared to be the opening shot in a Republican attempt to delay the bill past Christmas" (Brown, Frates and Raju, 12/16).
Indeed, "Senate Republicans vowed Wednesday to use every available tactic to delay voting on the health-care bill as Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) scrambled to unify Democrats," The Washington Post reports. "Republicans are expected to make a similar move when Reid introduces the revised Senate bill, which is likely to top 2,000 pages and which cannot be similarly withdrawn." As Coburn put it, "We ought to take and embrace this idea of transparency and responsibility that the American people can expect every one of us to have read this bill" (Murray and Montgomery, 12/17).
"The conflict on Wednesday illustrated the frustration growing in both parties after more than two weeks of desultory debate, as Senate Democrats struggle to line up 60 votes and pass their health care bill before Christmas," The New York Times reports. "Democrats said Republicans were stalling and obstructing the most important social legislation in decades. Republicans said Mr. Sanders had candidly avowed a goal that many Democrats secretly shared: a government takeover of health care" (Pear, 12/16).
The battle over Sanders' amendment also revealed the "power and variety of Republican delaying tactics," the Los Angeles Times reports. "The amendment was not expected to pass, and after the clerk had spent two hours and 43 minutes reading 139 pages of the bill -- to a chamber with only two or three senators present -- Sanders withdrew the amendment to allow debate to resume" (Hook, 12/17).
NPR: Coburn "said he was only trying to follow regular order, but an aide to the minority leader put out a different message on Twitter: We're trying to kill the bill" (Welna, 12/16).
Nevertheless, The Associated Press/USA Today report, "Republicans accused Democrats of trampling on Senate procedure in allowing Sanders to interrupt the reading, and Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said the incident showed the majority party 'is willing to do anything to jam through a 2,000-page bill before the American people or any of us has a chance to read it'" (12/17).
Roll Call: "How Sanders was able to withdraw his amendment is unclear - under the chamber's rules it appears that a motion to withdraw would not be in order during the reading of the bill. However, the Senate Parliamentarian - in what a GOP aide called 'an incredibly bizarre decision' - ruled Sanders' request was allowable." Coburn "attempted to call for the 'regular order,' which would be the reading of the amendment. However, the presiding officer recognized Sanders long enough for him to withdraw" (Stanton, 12/16).
The Hill: "Senate aides estimated that the bill reading would have taken eight to 10 hours, which would have sidelined the healthcare debate as Democratic leaders are attempting to pass the overhaul by Christmas" (Fabian, 12/16).