The Senate is headed for a historic partisan showdown as Democrats scramble to come up with enough support to pass a massive overhaul of the nation's health care system while Republicans do everything in their power to stop it.
As support for the plan pushed by President Obama wanes in national polls, Senate Democrats are trying to beat the clock by passing the bill before a lengthy year-end recess that will put uncertain senators in contact with constituents opposed to the plan. Democrats need all 60 members of their caucus voting together to block a potential Republican filibuster.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is planning midnight and early-morning votes this weekend and next week, with a final vote on a health care bill taking place on Christmas Eve.
Reid said the odd-hour votes were unavoidable because Republicans were refusing to agree to limit debate on the legislation and agree to other parliamentary issues.
“They've made it perfectly clear that they have no interest in cooperating,” Reid said Thursday. “But the families and businesses who are suffering, hurting and dying every single day have no time for these kinds of games. That's why we're going to finish health care, whether the other side cooperates or not.”
Republicans say they want to block the bill because public opinion polls show dwindling support for the plan. Reid's revised bill has yet to be revealed but would create new health care subsidies, tax increases and an unprecedented requirement that all Americans buy private insurance.
“What the American people are saying now is stop, go back to the beginning, sit down in a bipartisan basis and let's get this done but let's get it done right,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said on the Senate floor Thursday.
Republicans began slowing down debate Wednesday when Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., forced the reading of a 767-page Democratic amendment. Democrats had to withdraw the amendment to stop the reading. But the tactic won't work with Reid's revised proposal, which he will introduce in the form of an amendment as early as Friday. Republicans say they will force the reading clerk to recite the entire amendment, which will take about eight hours.
Republicans said they needed to read the entire proposal on the floor because Democrats were trying to rush passage of an unpopular plan even though no one has seen it.
“They know Americans overwhelmingly oppose it, so they want to get it over with,” McConnell said.
Republicans are not even Reid's biggest headache. He must still find the 60 votes within his own caucus, with at least one senator, Ben Nelson, of Nebraska, firmly pledging Thursday to vote “no” unless significant changes are made to the bill concerning abortion funding and other issues.