GOP considering amendment barrage to slow down healthcare bill

Pundits have so-far billed reconciliation as a fruitful political maneuver that would allow Democrats to pass healthcare reform easily, with only 51 votes.

Substantively, that's true. But one top Democratic aide told The Hill on Tuesday that the budget tactic could also open up the healthcare debate to an unlimited number of amendments, delaying progress on a bill that has been in the works for months.

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Separately, a Senate Republican aide earlier on Tuesday hinted to The Hill that Senate GOPers were likely to go that route, signaling the possibility of a forthcoming "vote-a-rama" -- a seemingly endless series of votes -- on amendments to the healthcare bill that might only tangentially involve healthcare reform.

At issue is a condition in the reconciliation rules that allows senators to offer countless amendments at the conclusion of a mandatory, 20-hour reconciliation debate. Those amendments must be voted on immediately, without discussion, and each roll call can take up to 15 minutes to complete.

Most of those amendments are unlikely to pass, as many would require at least 51 (and sometimes 60) votes to be part of the bill. But all would take up considerable time on the Senate floor, delaying a final vote on the bill until GOP leaders grew tired of their own effort.

The strategy could also ultimately force Democrats to take a stand on issues many in the party would like to avoid, the aides acknowledged -- namely, Sen. Ben Nelson's (D-Neb.) Medicaid exemption, among other topics.

Republicans have so far not acknowledged the strategy publicly, but Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) did seem to hint it was possible during an interview with The Hill on Tuesday.

"The biggest problem with the reconciliation process -- beyond the sheer stupidity of it -- is the fact that it's a 51-vote margin, and we know they've got the majority, we've got the minority," the senator said.

"We will invoke the rules to make sure we block the worst parts of [the bill], but I think it would be ill-advised to consider [the reconciliation] approach," he added