December 18th, 2009
03:22 PM ET
9 months ago

GOP rips Senate health care timeline

Washington (CNN) – Partisan tensions exploded Friday as Republicans laced into Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's possible plan to unveil a revised Senate health care bill over the weekend and pass it before Christmas.

The self-imposed holiday deadline loomed large as Reid struggled to win the support of socially conservative Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson and to unify his fractious 60-member caucus. If the minority Republicans remain solid in opposition, the backing of every member of the Democratic caucus will be required to end Senate debate and proceed to a vote on final passage.

Final Senate passage - potentially slated for Christmas Eve - would then require a simple majority of 51 votes.

Adding to Reid's complications is growing anger among liberal activists over compromises made to win the backing of more moderate Democrats. Congress is also waiting for a critical new cost analysis of the revised bill by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.

"This massive piece of legislation that seeks to restructure one-sixth of our economy is being written behind closed doors without input from anyone in an effort to jam it past not only the Senate but the American people before Christmas - an artificial deadline," fumed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky.

"Every American will be affected by this missing bill. ... No one will have had an opportunity to read it and to understand it" before the vote.

The critical first vote to cut off debate could come as early as 1 a.m. on Monday, according to top Senate aides. The unusual timing is a consequence of Senate rules for legislative debate and Democrats' strong desire to pass the bill before adjourning for the year.

This "isn't change you can believe in," said Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona. "There is no change. This is business as usual."

McCain complained that while "every single major reform bill that's been passed in the history of this country has been bipartisan ... there's no bipartisanship here. There's no negotiation. There's no conversation."

A key obstacle for Reid is Nelson, who on Thursday rejected compromise abortion language that had been inserted in the health care bill.

Nelson has said he cannot support the Senate bill without tighter restrictions on federal funding for abortion. The Senate last week defeated an amendment proposed by Nelson and two other senators that would have adopted the tougher language on abortion funding contained in the House health care bill.

The Senate bill as currently written would restrict government money from being used for abortions by segregating taxpayer funded subsides from the private money women pay for premiums.

The more rigid House bill, in contrast, would prevent insurance companies that receive any federal subsidies from offering abortion coverage.

Nelson has argued attempts in the Senate bill to keep private and public funds apart amount to little more than accounting tricks and don't live up to long-standing government practices that prevent federal funds from paying for abortions.

He has said a compromise on the abortion language is possible. He is currently working to find a solution with Sen. Bob Casey, a socially conservative Pennsylvania Democrat. But abortion rights opponents in Nebraska, with whom Nelson has been conferring, have called the attempts to find a middle ground on the issue this week "entirely unacceptable."

As Reid works to bring Nelson on board, he also needs to worry about keeping increasingly disaffected liberals in line.

Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean came out against the bill earlier in the week. Dean argued, among other things, that the bill had been effectively gutted by Reid's decision eliminate both a controversial government-run public health insurance option and a provision allowing 55- to 64-year-olds to buy into Medicare.

The move was necessary to win the support of moderates such as Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats.

On Thursday, two unions with significant influence in Democratic politics - the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union - issued statements criticizing the revised bill.

Neither union, however, indicated an intention to oppose the measure.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, one of the most liberal members of the chamber, indicated earlier in the week he was not sure he could back the bill.

"The final bill won't include everything that everybody wants. No bill can do that," President Barack Obama said Tuesday after meeting with Senate Democrats.

"(But) we simply cannot allow differences over individual elements of this plan to prevent us from meeting our responsibility to solve a long-standing and urgent problem for the American people."

Former President Bill Clinton released a statement Thursday urging congressional Democrats not "to let the perfect be the enemy of the good."

If the Senate eventually passes a health care bill, its version would have to be merged with the version the House of Representatives passed in November, which includes a public option. The final bill would then need approval from both chambers before going to Obama to be signed into law.

–CNN's Ted Barrett and Lisa Desjardins contributed to this report


Filed under: Congress • Health care
soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. ran

    Republicans give it up already. People we need to vote in more true Democrats in 2010 and 2012 and we will see real change.

    It should be clear to all that the Republicans do not care for the people. so let us get rid of them all. Vote either for a true Democrat or an Independent in 2010-2012.

    December 18, 2009 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  2. Anonymous

    thats the simple reason americans are tired of the left and right politics. we need a health plan including a public option.. if the families of these men had a debilitating disease they would demand decent health care for them .. they are covered by a very good plan and dont give a hoot about us.. we need a 3rd party to see if we can get the country going again.

    December 18, 2009 06:11 pm at 6:11 pm |
  3. SocialismBad

    So the very life and health of the American people is being drafted behind closed doors by a few crazy liberals and then they want to rush it to passage before the American people and their elected representatives can even read the massive bill???

    Now doesn't that give you all the warm and fuzzys! Now is that the Hope and Change you all voted for? Sounds like the complete transparency that was promised, right? Sounds like the old Soviet Union to me.

    This country needs recall provisions for cases like this when elected politicians refuse to listen the majority of the American people and act to the detriment of the best interests of the country.

    December 18, 2009 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  4. Ex-NC-Pub

    "GOP rips....GOP slams...."

    If I had a penny for every time I have heard and/or read that, I could pay my insurance premiums for a year. I am so tired of their B.S., I could scream.

    December 18, 2009 06:24 pm at 6:24 pm |
  5. artraveler

    Yes, waiting 45 years for healthcare is really rushing things. The Republicans were so right on Social Security and Medicare too, It must be sad to be on the wrong side of history so many times.

    December 18, 2009 06:25 pm at 6:25 pm |
  6. T'SAH from Virginia

    MORE TIME.... Oh yea, that's right, more time to READ IT when they should have read it a long time ago.

    RepubliCAN'Ts want more time for WHAT? To say NO, that's all!!

    Saying NO until 2010 will ruin the Party of NO... so maybe it's a GOOD THING they want to STALL!!

    December 18, 2009 06:35 pm at 6:35 pm |
  7. Rudy

    No more room for honest debate. This bill can only get passed under cover of darkness. I love all that transparency our great leader promised us.

    December 18, 2009 06:51 pm at 6:51 pm |
  8. Joe

    Why dont the liberals read the polls. The polls indicated that 67% of the popluation does not want this health bill. Now they are goingto try to jam it down the throats of those opposed. What is going on. If they slam dunk it, you can be guaranted that they will pay for it in 20120 elections. The pople are tired after just one year of Obama and his liberal House and Senate. The road to ruination is coming people.

    December 18, 2009 07:30 pm at 7:30 pm |