Senate Republicans fired the first shot in what could turn into an ugly partisan battle over a sweeping health-care bill Democrats are trying to pass by Christmas.
With just a week left before the holiday, Republicans slowed debate to a crawl Wednesday afternoon by demanding a Senate clerk recite all 767 pages of an amendment filed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to create a national health plan.
Democrats are left to wonder if Republicans will use the same tactic on the compromise proposal being pushed by President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, which will be introduced in the coming days in the form of a special amendment. If the GOP insists on a reading, it could eat up days of the dwindling calendar.
“I think it's a possibility,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a member of the GOP leadership team, told The Examiner.
Poll numbers show support for the Democratic health-care proposal is shrinking, and Republicans know it.
“That's why Senate Republicans are trying to slow it down — so more people will react negatively to the legislation and urge Congress to start over,” said political strategist Ron Bonjean, a former top Senate and House GOP leadership aide.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., insisted on the reading after asking for certification that every senator has read and understands the Senate health-care bill, which Democrats have rewritten several times in secret and have not released in final form yet.
“This reading will provide a dose of transparency that has been lacking in this debate,” Coburn said.
Democrats were powerless to stop the reading, which would have taken up to 12 hours. Finally, Sanders was forced to withdraw his universal coverage provision, calling the GOP maneuver “an outrage” in the face of a national health-care crisis.
Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., will have to file his health care proposal by Friday at the latest if he hopes to hold a pre-Christmas vote. His latest plan includes an expansion of Medicaid, the federal health program for poor Americans, to all adults earning 133 percent of the poverty level — about $30,000 for a family of four. Reid's plan would also create a federally managed system for private insurers to offer policies on the national level.
Even without Republican stall tactics, Reid is still trying to get all 60 members of his caucus behind his bill to block a filibuster by the minority party.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he did not expect any Republicans to support it, although Democrats and the White House have been heavily courting Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.
“There are 60 of them and only 40 of us,” McConnell said. “Their problem is not the 40 of us. Their problem is the American people who are saying to them quite loudly and consistently in all the polls, 'Do not pass this bill.' If they can get all of their members together, they can defy the wishes of the American people and pass it”