GOP vows to stall Senate health vote
Democrats press effort to lock up 60 votes for bill
WASHINGTON - Senate Republicans vowed yesterday to use every available tactic to delay voting on the health care bill as majority leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, scrambled to unify Democrats in support of the legislation.
Democratic leaders continued to court Senator Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska, whose vote appeared to be the most elusive in the 60-member Democratic caucus; he was unsatisfied with language in the $848 billion legislation related to abortion coverage. Democratic leaders offered to revise the bill with tighter restrictions, but Nelson, an abortion rights opponent, said he wasn’t sure the new wording would go far enough.
Meanwhile, on the Senate floor, Republicans showed they were prepared to extend the health care debate as long as possible, with Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, demanding that a Senate clerk read aloud a 767-page Democratic amendment sponsored by Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont, an independent. The GOP bid was foiled about three hours later, when Sanders withdrew his longshot proposal to create a Canadian-style single-payer system.
Sanders said his plan would have eliminated “the hundreds of billions of dollars in waste, administrative costs, bureaucracy, and profiteering that is engendered by the private insurance companies.’’ He vowed that it will return when the public begins to realize that private insurers “are no longer needed.’’
Republicans also are expected to call for a reading of the legislation when Reid introduces the revised Senate bill, which is likely to top 2,000 pages and which cannot be similarly withdrawn.
“We ought to take and embrace this idea of transparency and responsibility that the American people can expect every one of us to have read this bill . . . and certify that we have an understanding for what we’re doing to health care,’’ Coburn said.
Democrats decried the maneuver. “The decision by the Senate Republican leadership today to have the Sanders amendment read clearly tells us what their strategy is,’’ said Democratic Whip Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois. “It is to slow down or stop this bill at any cost.’’
Durbin said the Dec. 25 deadline for passage remains in place, provided Reid can lock up the 60 votes needed to overcome a GOP filibuster. “I think that we can get this done in time for each of us to be home for Christmas. That’s our goal,’’ Durbin said.
But Nelson said yesterday that he is still undecided on the bill and won’t vote for the package “until and unless the things I’ve put before them are handled.’’
According to participants in the talks, the latest revision would seek to more clearly segregate public and private funds in new insurance exchanges for individuals who do not have access to affordable employer-based coverage. Under the bill, people with incomes below 400 percent of the federal poverty level would receive government subsidies to purchase plans on the exchanges.
Nelson, along with numerous antiabortion groups, wants an ironclad ban on using subsidies to buy policies that include abortion coverage. Such a provision would track closely with terms in the House bill, adopted over strong liberal objections. Abortion rights groups are pressuring Senate Democrats to resist such stringent rules, arguing that abortion access for all women could be threatened.
Nelson told reporters that he is waiting for antiabortion groups in Nebraska to weigh in. In past campaigns, Nelson has faced criticism from such organizations that he is not tough enough in his opposition to abortion - despite his reputation among Democrats as a staunch conservative on the issue.
Four senators, including Joe Lieberman, Independent of Connecticut, announced yesterday that they would seek to significantly increase the authority of a new independent Medicare advisory board that the Obama administration views as critical to reining in health care costs.
The amendment would scrap deals to exempt hospitals and hospices from Medicare payment cuts over the next decade.