By Alexander Bolton - 12/17/09 08:15 PM EST
Sen. Jim DeMint said Thursday he is prepared to use every procedural tool to delay a vote on the Democratic healthcare legislation.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is planning to schedule votes around the clock over the next week to meet a deadline of passing the bill by Christmas. Without the cooperation of Republicans, the marathon schedule would end with a vote on Christmas Eve.
But DeMint (R-S.C.), chairman of the Senate Republican Steering Committee and a leader of the conservative opposition, told The Hill he will not yield back any time.
DeMint also said he would force the Senate to return to Washington after Christmas to vote on a $290 billion increase to the federal debt limit. Treasury officials told lawmakers that they need an increase of borrowing authority to keep the government solvent beyond Dec. 31.
“I’m not going to waive any time,” DeMint said in an interview, when asked whether he would force Reid to go late into Christmas Eve to pass healthcare legislation. “I think it’s our responsibility to stretch this out because every day we do we have time to tell Americans what’s in it."
DeMint said Democrats hope “they can pass it before Americans know what’s in it, while people are thinking about Christmas and being with their families.”
Senate Democrats concede that they will have to return to Washington between Christmas and New Year’s Day to pass the increase in the federal debt limit if a single GOP member objects to expediting that vote.
DeMint made clear he will not cooperate.
“We’ll be back here the day after Christmas if Democrats want it,” said DeMint.
Reid is just as adamant about passing the healthcare bill before Christmas, a deadline Senate Democrats have talked about for weeks.
“We’re going to finish this healthcare bill before we leave here for the holidays,” Reid said on the Senate floor Thursday.
To meet that goal, Reid has tentatively scheduled a 1 a.m. vote Friday to cut off debate on the defense-spending bill, which also includes an extension of unemployment benefits and COBRA subsidies for people who have lost their jobs. If the Senate votes to quash the filibuster, lawmakers would proceed to final passage after 30 hours of post-cloture debate, or at 7 a.m. Saturday, according to Democratic sources briefed on the plan.
For the Senate to pass healthcare reform by Christmas, as Reid has pledged, the Senate leader would then have to file take a series of necessary procedural steps that would force votes all week at odd hours.
Reid must file motions to end debate on: the manager’s amendment, which includes all the final-hour changes made to win the support of 60 Democratic senators; the 2,074-page healthcare bill, which lawmakers have been debating on the floor; and on the underlying legislative vehicle, the Service Members Home Ownership Tax Act.
Republicans may force Senate clerks to read the entire manager’s amendment but that will not disrupt the schedule. That’s because reading the amendment, which will be shorter than the 2,074-page healthcare bill, is not expected to take more than eight hours.
Cloture motions need one day to ripen, so the earliest the Senate could vote to end debate on Reid’s manager’s amendment would be 1 a.m. Monday.
Democrats would have to allow 30 hours of post-cloture debate to elapse before voting to approve the manager’s amendment. A second cloture vote to end debate on the initial healthcare bill would happen as early as 7 a.m. Tuesday, followed by another 30 hours of post-cloture debate before a vote to adopt that amendment to the underlying bill.
Democrats would then have to repeat the same process on the third motion to end debate on the underlying bill, setting up a cloture vote at 1 p.m. Wednesday.
At any time, the chamber could move up a final vote if every senator agrees. But if a single senator objects, the earliest a final vote on the final package could take place would be 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve.
And if Republicans object to fast-tracking the increase in the federal debt limit, as DeMint has threatened, the Senate would be forced to return the following week.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said Treasury Department officials have informed him that the administration needs new borrowing authority by Dec. 31. Conrad said the administration may be able to extend the deadline for a short time because of loan repayments it has received from Citigroup and other banks.
Conrad said Thursday he expected a Christmas Eve vote to pass the healthcare bill.