By J. Taylor Rushing - 12/07/09 03:00 AM EST
Senate Republicans and Democrats are digging in for a long December,
vowing they have no objection to the possibility of a working Christmas
to debate healthcare reform.
From GOP rank-and-file to Democratic leaders, senators say they regret but recognize the need to put public duty ahead of their families and follow a schedule tentatively laid out by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Reid has said he may call the chamber back into session in between the Christmas and New Year's holidays.
"I was planning to go to London with my daughter and son-in-law and three grandchildren," said Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.), former chief of staff to former Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.). "I've already canceled my flight. I don't think we'll be done by the 18th. I've been around this place for 36 years. But healthcare is such an important issue, you have to put it ahead of your personal life. There will be Christmas next year."
"My family plans are always subject to change," said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.). "My family knew that when I was elected to the Senate... If we stay here through Christmas, so be it."
Only a minority of senators said they expect to meet Reid's goal of a final Senate vote before Christmas, allowing them time to return home.
"I fully expect Christmas Day to be eating turkey with my family someplace," said Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Byron Dorgan (N.D.). "If we come back the day after Christmas, I assume the turkey will be gone by then but my preference will be to be able to digest it for a couple of days."
"Of course there's personal plans that will be jeopardized," conceded Democratic Conference Secretary Patty Murray (Wash.). "But I'm still hopeful we can come together like we usually do."
Republicans vowed to match the Democrats' resolve. GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) has publicly called for "weeks and weeks" of Senate debate on the bill, and Republicans are readying a variety of amendments that would all but obliterate a Dec. 18th final vote.
"I'm sure everybody has family plans that will be affected, but we're committed to staying as long as it takes to defeat this," said GOP Policy Chairman John Thune (S.D.). "And I'm sure the other side thinks they'll stay as long as necessary to pass it."
Republicans such as Roger Wicker of Mississippi dismissed the idea of simply skipping the final healthcare vote, even considering that their opposition to the bill would allow them such a liberty. Wicker said he recognized the historic nature of the vote and has already tentatively canceled a political event in Mississippi.
"It would be silly for the Senate to forego Christmas season with our families when you know there will be so much down time in January," Wicker said. "But I'm not going to miss healthcare votes. If the majority leader thinks we'll be voting between Christmas and New Year's, I'll be here voting.
"There are soldiers sweating in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I visualize the pictures of the bare-footed soldiers with their feet bleeding at Valley Forge in Christmas of 1776. I think we can stand to be in this splendid building for Christmas if we have to."
Some senators, such as liberal Democrat Roland Burris of Illinois, said they remain optimistic that they can crowd a busy social schedule into the month, even with a healthcare vote that may or may not occur on the 18th.
"Today I'm missing a big luncheon I was supposed to be at. On Saturday there's a Christmas party, on Dec. 13th there's a black-tie event and on Dec. 18th there's a black-tie event, all in Chicago," Burris said. "And there's events on the 19th, the 20th and the 26th. All of those things were on my social calendar. But I don't think I'll miss them. I think we'll get it done. But I'm going to follow our leader."