Senate debate stalls as GOP forces 'read-a-thon'

Wednesday, December 16, 2009 - 2:06pm

WASHINGTON - The debate on the health care reform bill stalled Wednesday, as Senate Republicans forced the Senate clerk to read a 767-page amendment establishing a government-financed health care system.

"Republicans have a number of tools at their disposal that can be used. This is an option that was discussed for some time and our conference is unified in its execution," said a Senate Republican leadership aide.

Don Stewart, a spokesman for Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), added, "This will take several hours, if not the balance of the day."

Senate staff estimate the reading could take eight hours.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) offered the amendment and asked to dispense with the reading of it, which is almost always agreed to by unanimous consent. But Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) objected - it takes only one senator - forcing the reading.

Sanders called it a "bit absurd" that Coburn was objecting. And Coburn insisted he wasn't intentionally stalling the bill. "We're going to understand what single payer is all about and read the bill," he said.

Republicans appear to have no immediate plans to stop the reading.

This development will prevent senators from offering, debating or voting on any other amendments. While it might seem like the reading would set back efforts to finish the bill by Christmas, the timetable doesn't really depend on what happens on the floor.

It depends entirely on Majority Leader Harry Reid's ability to reach a compromise on the bill that can pick up 60 votes to thwart any filibuster.

“The only thing that Senator Coburn’s stunt achieves is to stop us from moving to the DoD appropriations bill that funds our troops – not exactly the kind of Christmas gift that our troops were expecting from Dr. No,” said Reid's spokesman, Jim Manley.

Manley said the amendment will take 12 hours to read. And it can only be interrupted to ask that it be waived, which presumably would be objected to by Coburn, who's been sitting in the chamber.

Before forcing the reading, Coburn asked to certify that every senator has read and understands the bill. But Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said it would be impossible for the Senate to certify that all its members understand the bill.

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