Senate Republicans fulfilled a threat on Wednesday to require chamber staffers to read Democrats' healthcare amendments aloud on the floor of the Senate.
When Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) took the floor to begin debate on his proposal to establish a single-payer healthcare system, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) interjected on behalf of his party, requesting Sanders's 767-page amendment be read in full.
The move essentially grinds the Senate to a halt — likely for the next eight hours, according to Senate staff — unless the chamber unanimously consents to dispensing the reading.
“I admire Senator Sanders for his willingness to fight for publically what many advocate only privately – a single payer health care system funded and controlled by bureaucrats and politicians in Washington. Every American should listen to the reading of this amendment and pay careful attention to its vote tally,” Coburn said in a statement after the reading began.
“The American people deserve to understand the competing approaches to reform in the U.S. Senate," he added. "It’s unfortunate that Senator Reid waited until the last minute to introduce his bill and now wants to rush it through the Senate. This reading will provide a dose of transparency that has been lacking in this debate."
Republicans have long threatened to use parliamentary procedure to slow down this year's healthcare debate. A memo authored by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) that surfaced last month reminded Republicans they could use such tactics as requesting an amendment's full reading to keep Democrats from offering new amendments, voting on proposals that have already been offered or proceeding to a final vote on the healthcare bill.
"We, the minority party, must use the tools we have under Senate rules to insist on a full, complete and fully informed debate on the health care legislation – as well as all legislation – coming before the Senate," Gregg wrote in that memo.
Ultimately, if Republicans continue invoking regular order and requesting the full reading of all amendments, Democrats could find themselves still locked in debate by Dec. 23 -- their informal, self-imposed deadline to pass their healthcare bill.