By Jeffrey Young - 12/02/09 06:42 PM EST
Senate Democrats threatened to pull out the procedural stops to force
votes on amendments to the healthcare reform bill on the floor as the
GOP continues to object to advancing the legislation.
Moreover, Senate Democrats said after huddling on floor strategy Wednesday, the majority party is prepared to keep the Senate in session until Christmas or beyond in order to complete work on the bill before New Year's.
The Senate began its formal debate on the healthcare reform bill on Monday but has yet to hold a vote on the first two amendments to the legislation because of Republican objections to moving forward. Without an agreement from the minority, Democrats would either have to file cloture on each amendment, a process that takes days and requires 60 votes, or move to table the amendments, a procedural move that requires only 51 votes but that traditionally has been viewed by senators as harsh.
With Congress's scheduled winter holiday recess fast approaching, the slow start to the floor debate — not to mention unresolved policy issues dividing Democrats — threatens the Democratic leadership's plan to get the bill passed before 2010. Democratic senators said they were ready to stay in session as long as it takes.
"The Republican leadership is stalling us, so we have decided we are going right through Christmas," said Sen. Bill NelsonBill NelsonTen senators ask FCC to delay box plan Senators to House: FAA reauthorization would enhance airport security Dems discuss dropping Wasserman Schultz MORE (D-Fla.). Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom HarkinTom HarkinDo candidates care about our health or just how much it costs? The Hill's 12:30 Report Mark Mellman: Parsing the primary processes MORE (D-Iowa) predicted Democrats would meet their target despite the sluggish floor debate. "We’re going to get this done before the new year comes in. In fact, I think we’re going to get it done before Christmas," Harkin said. Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidSanders tests Wasserman Schultz Nearly 400 House bills stuck in Senate limbo Puerto Rico debt relief faces serious challenges in Senate MORE (D-Nev.) has already warned senators that he plans to keep the Senate in session at night and on weekends.
So far this week, the Senate has been stuck debating an amendment authored by Sens. Barbara MikulskiBarbara MikulskiSenate backs equal pay for female soccer players Lawmakers push to elevate Cyber Command in Senate defense bill Dems discuss dropping Wasserman Schultz MORE (D-Md.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) to increase access to breast cancer screenings and an amendment offered by Sen. John McCainJohn McCainTrump should apologize to heroic POWs McCain urges sports leagues to return 'paid patriotism' money Senators to Obama: Make 'timely' call on Afghan troops levels MORE (R-Ariz.) to strip more than $400 billion in Medicare spending cuts from the legislation. Reid planned to hold votes on these amendments and two substitute amendments Wednesday afternoon, but Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellIn House GOP, Ryan endorsement of Trump seen as inevitable McConnell: Trump White House will have ‘constraints’ Nearly 400 House bills stuck in Senate limbo MORE (R-Ky.) objected Tuesday evening.
Republicans deny their intention is to stymie debate on the legislation, though a GOP leadership aide said their aim is to ensure that the healthcare reform bill is on the floor for at least as long as the several weeks Reid spent behind closed doors merging the healthcare bills approved by the Finance and HELP committees. The aide also noted that the Democratic Conference has 60 members and should be capable of overcoming any minority objections and that Democrats would move to table the amendments.
Democrats are strongly leaning toward moving to table the amendments if Republicans continue to object to holding votes, according to Harkin. "I just think that we’re going to have to, at some point, say enough is enough on the stall and we’re going to have to start voting; we’ll probably be tabling amendments," he said.