Senate Democrats scrambled on Wednesday to speed up the pace of debate on their $848 billion health care reform package in the face of strong Republican opposition that has stalled votes on amendments and jeopardized the legislations approval by Christmas.
Democrats are considering a range of parliamentary strategies to speed up the amendment process and were still vowing to pass a bill before Dec. 25. But leaders are beginning to concede that their goal may be out of reach and are promising to work straight through New Years Day if they have to.
Were not going to sit here in quorum calls for weeks while they dont even bring their amendments to a vote, Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said. If the floor activity is any indication, the Republican caucus does not want this bill to be amended, debated, or even passed.
Durbin said Democrats are working on a strategy to overcome GOP parliamentary tactics. But Durbin, following a special closed-door meeting of the Democratic Conference to consider Senators next moves, declined to elaborate.
However, Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) confirmed that one of the ideas under consideration is to begin tabling the GOP amendments. Proposing to table would require an immediate vote and only needs 51 votes to prevail.
Were on the third day now of no votes, and I think its becoming clear that whats happened is, theres just a stall, Harkin said. So, it seems to me, we have to then since theyre doing that kind of tactic then were just going to have to start moving to table amendments.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) added that Republicans are using whatever it takes to block us from actually solving the health care problem.
Although the debate on Majority Leader Harry Reids (D-Nev.) health care bill officially opened the Saturday before Thanksgiving when Senators voted 60-39 to bring the measure to the floor, amendments did not hit the floor until Monday. Three amendments have been on the floor and under debate since then, but no votes have been held partially because Republicans have objected to holding them.
On the floor at least through early Wednesday evening was an amendment by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) to include coverage of preventive health care services for women, a similar proposal from Republican Conference Vice Chairman Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), and a motion to recommit proposed by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that would strip Medicare cuts from the bill, pull the measure off of the floor, and send it back to the Finance Committee to be adjusted.
Republicans vociferously denied Democratic charges that they were slow-walking the bill for political gain, saying they are simply trying to block a bad measure in the event that they cannot make substantive changes to it. In fact, Republicans issued counter-charges that Democrats are attempting to rush passage of their bill because they know it is unpopular with voters.
They should not expect to pass this by Christmas, because it took Reid three weeks, in secrecy, to put the bill together, Finance ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said. Doesnt he think the other 99 Senators deserve at least three weeks to debate it?
The GOP appears unmoved by Democratic threats to shorten the planned Christmas and New Years recess or eliminate it altogether in order to approve health care reform this year, saying in effect: Bring it on. Reid has already informed Senators that the chamber will be in session every weekend leading up to Christmas.
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