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Partisan Wars Erupt in Senate

Health Care Reform Races the Clock

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin said Wednesday that Christmas was still a legitimate target for passing the health care reform measure.

As Senate Democratic leaders sought to shore up their last holdout on the road to a filibuster-proof vote for health care reform, Republicans began a procedural offensive intended to blunt the bill’s momentum, or at the very least deny Democrats a victory before Dec. 25.

“They’re trying to jam this health care thing through, and I don’t see us being inclined to help them do that before Christmas,” Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Thune (S.D.) said Wednesday.

Still, Democrats said they were determined to use all the tools at their disposal to ensure passage next week, despite the fact that Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) has yet to privately assure Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that he will provide the 60th vote needed to break a GOP-led filibuster of the package.

“I think we can get this done in time for each of us to go home for Christmas,” Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told reporters.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) —with the blessing of GOP leaders — sought to delay the Democrats’ timeline by at least one day on Wednesday by forcing the reading of a 767-page amendment by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Democrats got around that tactic by having Sanders withdraw his proposal, but an ensuing partisan dust-up over whether Sanders was actually allowed to scuttle his amendment under Senate rules foreshadowed a likely procedural war between Democrats and Republicans in the waning days of the session.

Relying on polling that shows the public’s dissatisfaction with the bill and growing unrest among the Democratic base over compromises made to accommodate party moderates, Republicans are confident that employing dilatory tactics carries few political risks. The GOP feels that if it can prevent the bill from passing this year, Democratic support for the package would collapse.

Republicans played coy on whether the tools at their disposal were enough to stop the Democrats from passing the bill this year. Many of the tactics they could use, such as calling live quorum call votes and raising points of order, would likely cause only short delays. But forcing Democrats to read the text of the bill as well as what is expected to be a 300- to 500-page manager’s package could conceivably wreck the Democrats’ timetable.

However, Coburn indicated Wednesday that forcing a reading of the manager’s amendment was not necessarily in the offing, noting that reading the text of a less voluminous amendment might not create the kind of delay Republicans are seeking.

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