GOP Tries To Stall Health Care Debate
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
With just over a week left to legislate before Christmas, Senate Democrats are still hoping to squeeze in a final vote on their health care overhaul. But that's the last thing their Republican counterparts want. Today, the GOP reached into its bag of parliamentary tricks to grind normal Senate business to a halt.
NPR's David Welna has this update on the health care saga's increasingly fractious endgame.
DAVID WELNA: Senate Chaplain Barry Black had his work cut out for him this morning trying to inspire civility among battling senators.
Mr. BARRY BLACK (Chaplain, US Senate): Lord help them to relinquish any negative thoughts to you, and receive a fresh infusion of your hope.
WELNA: Or perhaps hope against hope. The Senate's only declared socialist, Vermont independent Bernie Sanders, finally got his chance today to offer an amendment, a measure extending Medicare coverage to everyone.
Senator BERNIE SANDERS (Independent, Vermont): I will be offering on the floor of the Senate, I believe for the first time in history, a national single payer program and I look forward to getting a vote on that. I am not naive. I know that we will lose that vote.
WELNA: Things proceeded at least initially as they usually do with a new amendment, with the clerk reading it and its sponsor asking that the reading be dispensed with.
Unidentified Man #1: Strike line six and all that follows to the end and insert the following...
Sen. SANDERS: ...have amendment be considered as read.
Senator TOM COBURN (Republican, Oklahoma): President, I object.
Unidentified Man #2: Objection.
Sen. COBURN: I object.
Unidentified Man #3: Objection is heard.
WELNA: That was Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn objecting, which every senator has the right to do, but hardly ever does. Sanders was clearly bewildered.
Sen. SANDERS: I ask my friend from Oklahoma why he is objecting?
Sen. COBURN: Regular order, Mr. President.
WELNA: And regular order, in this case, was the reading of the nearly 800 pages in Sanders' amendment, a task that would take at least 10 hours. Asked outside the Senate chamber why he was insisting on this, Coburn simply shrugged.
Sen. COBURN: We are going to understand what single payer is all about. We're going to read the bill.
WELNA: Hours later, Dick Durbin, the Senate's number two Democrat, called a news conference to denounce what he called Republican efforts to kill the health care bill.
Senator DICK DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): I have in my hand a smoking tweet.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Sen. DURBIN: From Senator Jim DeMint - tweeted the following: if Reid won't slow down this debate, we will do it for him. End of tweet.
WELNA: Even as Durbin spoke, Sanders went to the Senate floor and reluctantly withdrew his amendment. It was a small victory for Republicans and a likely preview of similar tactics in store for the dwindling days until Christmas.
David Welna, NPR News, The Capitol.
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