Republicans on Tuesday rolled out all of the obstructionist tactics they promised as the Senate kicked off its final health care showdown, beginning 20 hours of debate on the reconciliation bill meant to amend the comprehensive legislation signed into law on Tuesday. GOP tactics to stall the measure included introducing headline-grabbing amendments to the bill (like a proposal to prohibit Viagra coverage for sex offenders), and blocking Senate business on issues unrelated to health care.
Even as the GOP pulls out all the stops, Democratic leadership says they hope to finish debate on the reconciliation “fix it” bill as early as Thursday night, the Washington Post reports. Under the rules of reconciliation, which allows a bill to be passed with just 51 votes, the Senate debates for 20 hours. At the end of the debate, the Senate goes into “vote-a-rama,” a rapid-fire voting session on all of the amendments up for discussion. After already slogging through more than seven hours of debate on Tuesday, “vote-a-rama” could begin as early as tonight.
Republicans unveiled their strategy of introducing amendments that would be difficult for Democrats to vote against, raising the ire of the majority party. For instance, one of the nine amendments introduced by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) is entitled “No Erectile Dysfunction Drugs To Sex Offenders.” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), meanwhile, introduced an amendment to erase “sweetheart” deals from the health care legislation. The reconciliation bill already rolls back some, but not all, of the so-called “special deals” in President Obama’s new law.
Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana — herself the target of scrutiny for securing a so-called “sweetheart deal” for her state — blasted McCain’s amendment as purely political, the Hill reports. She reportedly called the amendment “for television or the Internet… not for any serious debate.”
“It is beneath the senator from Arizona, who at one time was a candidate for president of this country,” Landrieu said. “Normally the only time I see the word ‘sweetheart’ is when my husband sends me a dozen roses on Valentine’s Day… To actually draft an amendment like this that uses the words ‘sweetheart deal’ is really an insult to the people of our country, and I would expect more from him.”
A number of pro-reform groups, including Health Care for American Now, Families USA and the labor federation AFL-CIO, are urging Democrats to vote against all amendments — even proposals they would normally support — so that the reconciliation bill can pass swiftly. If any amendments are passed, the reconciliation bill will be sent back to the House for yet another vote.
Meanwhile, as the reconciliation debate began yesterday, three different Senate committees were about to hold hearings: one on a national broadband plan, a hearing on federal financial management and an environmental hearing. All of those were abruptly canceled, however, because of GOP obstruction.
There is an obscure Senate rule that says the Senate cannot conduct hearings after 2 p.m. without unanimous consent, so Republicans opted to withhold their consent, the Hill reports.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid released a statement excoriating Republicans for “throwing a temper tantrum and grinding important Senate business to a halt.”