WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans vowed Wednesday to use every available tactic to delay voting on the health care bill as Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., scrambled to unify Democrats in support of the legislation.
Party leaders continued to court Nebraska's Ben Nelson, 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. Leaders offered to revise the bill with tighter restrictions, but Nelson, an abortion 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 debate, with Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., demanding that a Senate clerk read aloud a 767-page Democratic amendment sponsored by Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt.
The GOP bid was foiled about three hours later, when Sanders withdrew his long-shot proposal to create a Canadian-style single-payer system. But Republicans are expected to make a similar move when Reid introduces the revised Senate bill, which is likely to top 2,000 pages and which cannot be similarly withdrawn.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 in America," Coburn said.
Democrats decried the maneuver and predicted the GOP stalling effort would fail. "The decision by the Senate Republican leadership today to have the Sanders amendment read clearly tells us what their strategy is," said Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., "It is to slow down or stop this bill at any cost."
He said the Dec. 25 deadline for final passage remained intact, provided Reid can lock down the 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican 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 told reporters Wednesday that he remains undecided on the health care bill and won't vote for the package "until and unless the things I've put before them are handled."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday she and the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives are open to a health care overhaul without a government-run public option.