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Senate Races the Clock

John Hart, spokesman for Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), would not explicitly confirm that his boss would lead the attack. However, in an e-mail, Hart said Coburn “doesn’t want to discuss tactical details, but he and Senators are prepared to use all procedural tools at their disposal to produce a real reform bill. If the Majority Leader brings up a bill remotely like the House bill, two or three readings of the bill would be the least of their concerns.” Coburn, a fiscal conservative, often leads GOP attempts to trip up legislation on procedural grounds.

But Democrats may not even get to the reading of the bill if they can’t persuade all 60 Democrats to vote to block a GOP-led filibuster on the motion to proceed to the measure. Sixty votes are needed to beat back a filibuster, or invoke cloture, on a measure or motion.

Cloture takes time as well. After filing a cloture motion, the Senate must wait 30 hours before a vote to limit debate to an additional 30 hours.

If Democrats can dispense with the motion to proceed to the bill as well as the reading of the bill next week, they would be in a good position to have three full weeks in December for debate and amendments.

Of course, moving forward next week depends on whether the CBO has completed a cost estimate of the bill — and that the score comes in under $900 billion.

Another senior Senate Democratic aide said Reid “is trying to find creative ways to speed up the process, regardless of where CBO is in their process.” That could include trying to bring up a shell of a bill to start the 30-hour clock on a procedural motion to limit debate.

Some Senate Democrats could balk at that tactic, however, because they have already publicly asked Reid to wait for CBO’s score before bringing the heath care bill to the floor. Other Democrats have asked for the package to be available for 72 hours before any votes.

Assuming Democrats are successful in moving to the bill, Democratic aides said December will be a fast-paced month of legislating, with Reid looking to hold six-day workweeks, with votes scheduled Monday through Saturday.

That schedule anticipates more GOP roadblocks and Democratic discontent.

“We’re going to highlight the most outrageous obstruction, and we’re going to have put our heads down and push through it,” the first senior Senate Democratic aide said. “We’re going to need some White House assistance as well to help keep everybody [in the party] on the reservation.”

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