McConnell not backing down on health overhaul as votes loom

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blasted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) Friday morning for speeding a major healthcare overhaul through the upper chamber before Christmas.

McConnell and senior Republican Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) said the speed and secrecy Democrats have used to move such a massive reform is unprecedented.

ADVERTISEMENT
“He’s trying to jam the American people on this mysterious bill that no one has seen before Christmas,” McConnell told reporters.

McConnell made clear that he does not plan to back down next week. His tough stance makes it more likely that the Senate will vote late in the day on Dec. 24 to pass the healthcare bill if Democrats are to meet their Christmas deadline.

“This is a major restructuring of one-sixth of our economy,” McConnell added. “We’re in this position because of their desire to pack this up for Christmas and not only roll the opponents of this bill and roll and deceive the American people.”

McCain said he was not aware of any major piece of legislation over the course of his career that was kept as secret until shortly before a vote to cut off debate and proceed to a final vote.

The Senate has debated the 2,074-page healthcare bill on the floor since after Thanksgiving but the legislation is expected to undergo substantial change through a manager’s amendment that Reid will offer this weekend. Reid plans to file to cut off debate on the manager’s amendment early Monday morning.

“If we haven’t seen it, don’t you think we should have time to at least examine it?” said McCain. “I don’t think it would be outrageous to ask a bill be read that affects one-seventh of our gross national product.”

Democrats, however, have accused Republicans of obstructionism and say their delaying tactics are intended to kill the bill, not gain more time to study it.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) took Republicans to task during a floor speech Friday morning, noting that Republicans offered only four amendments over 19 days of the healthcare debate.

Lawmakers paused the healthcare debate on Thursday to take up a Department of Defense spending bill. The Senate voted early Friday morning to proceed to a final vote after Democrats struggled to muster enough votes to end debate.


McConnell denied that he has pressured centrists in the Republican conference such as Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins to support GOP delaying tactics.

Snowe, Collins and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) withheld their support for a motion to move to a final vote on the Defense spending bill until Democrats showed they had enough votes. The vote took place at about 1:30 a.m. Friday. 
 
“Every senator makes a decision about whether they want to come to a vote,” McConnell told reporters when asked whether he pressured those lawmakers. “We are all sworn to do our duty and we make our individual decisions about whether we come to a vote. Every individual senator makes a decision.”

McConnell also said that he would not allow Democrats to pass a $290 billion increase to the federal debt limit before Christmas.

“I don’t think so,” he said when asked after the press conference.

This means lawmakers will have to return to Washington between Christmas and New Year’s Day if they are to give the Obama administration more borrowing authority. Administration officials have told members of Congress they need it by Dec. 31 to keep the government solvent.