WASHINGTON (CNN) – As Democrats scrambled to meet self-imposed deadlines, Senate Republicans froze the health care debate for at least a day Wednesday by insisting that a 767-page mega-amendment be read out loud in its entirety.
The move was poised take some 12 hours or more and grind Senate business to a halt for the day. It also threatened Democrats' ability to pass a health care bill before Christmas.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, set things in motion around lunchtime Wednesday. As the Senate moved to a sweeping single-payer amendment by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, Coburn objected to the common Senate procedure that waives the actual out-loud reading of the proposal.
"I would ask that the amendment be considered as read," Sanders said on the floor.
"I object," Coburn instantly responded.
Senate clerks began with the table of contents and took turns reciting the rest of the bill.
A Republican leadership aide confirmed that party members discussed the parliamentary move at their caucus meeting and planned to require the reading of the entire Sanders amendment.
Coburn defended the tactic in a written statement, saying that Americans should hear competing proposals and that the health care debate needed to slow down.
"It's unfortunate that (Majority Leader Harry) Reid waited until the last minute to introduce his bill and now wants to rush it through the Senate," Coburn wrote.
Reid's office responded to CNN by pointing out that the move pushes back votes on other time-sensitive bills, including funding for the military.
"The only thing that Sen. Coburn's stunt achieves is to stop us from moving to the (defense) appropriations bill that funds our troops," Reid
spokesman Jim Manley said in an e-mailed statement. It's "not exactly the kind of Christmas gift that our troops were expecting from Dr. No."
"Dr. No" is a common Democratic nickname for Coburn, a conservative physician adamantly opposed to most Democratic initiatives.
A Republican leadership aide told CNN that the amendment reading is an example of many tools the party has at its disposal and one they may use again.
Another opportunity is coming soon. Reid has yet to unveil the language for a compromise amendment, which is expected to be lengthy and would also take considerable time to read out loud.