The Senate after seven hours of votes on health care reform legislation continued to grind on with no plan in sight that would bring the process to an end, leaders in both parties indicated shortly before 1 a.m.
Although lawmakers had hoped to wrap up for the night by 2:30 a.m. Thursday, it appeared increasingly likely that Members and staff would be forced to suffer through an all-night session of political kabuki theater before final passage of the health reconciliation package sometime Thursday.
The voting began Wednesday at 5:30 p.m., with Democrats repeatedly and easily shooting down multiple GOP efforts to alter the budget reconciliation bill, ranging from proposals to ban federal funding for Viagra prescriptions to rapists to amendments that would essentially repeal the entire Democratic reform package.
Although Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) were continuing closed-door talks in the hopes of working out an arrangement to bring some structure to the debate, neither lawmaker seemed inclined to end it.
“We’re here for the duration,” Reid said, noting that none of the GOP’s 23 amendments had passed and questioning Republicans’ motives. “I don’t know what we’re trying to accomplish here. … It’s very clear there’s been no attempt to improve this bill. It’s an attempt to destroy this bill,” Reid said.
McConnell, who said he hoped a deal could be reached “in the not too distant future,” defended his party’s decision to line up dozens of amendments, arguing that “the Majority Leader may not think we’re serious about changing the bill … [but] we are.”
Republicans, who have seen no party defections, have been picking up a few Democratic votes here and there, with Sens. Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) voting most often against the majority of their party. Other Democratic defectors have included Sens. Jim Webb (Va.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Evan Bayh (Ind.).
Notably, Nelson and Bayh voted with all Republicans against a Democratic motion to table the erectile dysfunction drug amendment offered by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). The vote was 57-42 to table the amendment.
Democrats fear votes against proposals like Coburn’s could be turned into effective campaign attack ads come November, but so far most in the caucus have held together against the amendments.
Lincoln, Nelson and McCaskill also voted with Republicans to kill a series of “sweetheart deals” in the reconciliation bill and the new health care reform law for several states, including the GOP-dubbed “Louisiana Purchase,” which would increase Medicaid funding for that state. The vote was 54-43 to table the amendment.
Emily Pierce and David M. Drucker contributed to this report.