Senate Democrats Kick Off Health Care Debate

Posted March 23, 2010 at 3:16pm

Updated: 5:19 p.m.

The Senate began the final leg of its yearlong quest to pass comprehensive health care reform on Tuesday after Democrats easily overcame a token GOP procedural attempt to derail the bill.

Although Republicans, led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), had been considering using a number of procedural maneuvers — such as forcing clerks to read the entire health care reconciliation bill aloud — they opted not to throw up any major obstacles at this point.

GOP Senators did, however, object to allowing committees to meet during Tuesday afternoon’s session. Normally, the Senate uses unanimous consent agreements to allow panels to convene.

Reid spokesman Jim Manley accused Republicans of “throwing a temper tantrum” in an effort to stall the bill.

Republicans “promised obstruction comes to reality just a day later. The ‘party of no’ wouldn’t even agree to let Senate committees meet today,” Manley said, adding, “Ironically, as they make false claims about transparency regarding health reform, they’re shutting down a committee hearing today on transparency in government. The bottom line is that as millions of Americans are learning about the immediate benefits of health reform, Republicans are throwing a temper tantrum and grinding important Senate business to a halt.”

Aside from forcing Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to hold a vote to adjourn for a few moments — a move needed under Senate rules to begin debate on the bill — McConnell’s only procedural move was to use two points of parliamentary inquiry to put Democrats on the record acknowledging the process for considering the package will be unique in the history of the Senate.

Following a 56-40 vote to begin debate on reconciliation, lawmakers enter into a 20-hour “talk-a-thon” that will likely last well into Wednesday night.

Republican and Democratic Senators said Tuesday’s debate could last until well after midnight, and lawmakers would likely resume work early Wednesday to push the process as far along as possible.

Following the 20 hours of debate — during which some amendments could be voted on if both sides agree — Reid is planning a full 24-hour “vote-a-rama” to work through hundreds of amendments and points of order by Republicans to try to scuttle the legislation.