By Alexander Bolton and Tony Romm - 12/16/09 05:42 PM EST
Republicans have forced the Senate clerk to read aloud a 767-page amendment to healthcare reform legislation, paralyzing action on the chamber floor as Democrats approach a Christmas deadline.
Senate aides estimated that it could take eight to 10 hours to read the massive amendment offered by Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont.
Conservative opinion leaders and activists have pushed Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to use every parliamentary tactic at his disposal to slow the bill.
Conservatives such as radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh last week questioned the Republican leadership's floor tactics but GOP aides say that McConnell does not share his strategy in advance.
"All the pieces of the strategy have been in place for a long time," said a GOP aide, who disputed the notion that conservative pressure spurred McConnell to take the unusual action of forcing the nearly 800-page measure to be read.
Senators had been expected to vote on Wednesday but now the schedule is uncertain.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had hoped to file a motion to cut off debate on the healthcare bill by Friday so that the chamber could pass the measure by Christmas. But the new GOP procedural offensive raises serious questions over whether that timeline can be met.
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
"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 healthcare 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.
"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 as the reading commenced.
“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."