Healthcare reform by Christmas may be a fading dream
Democrats’ hopes of passing a sweeping healthcare overhaul in the Senate by Christmas may be fading as Republicans step up efforts to delay a vote while public support for one of President Barack Obama’s top domestic priority continues to erode.
Republicans forced the Senate to begin reading aloud a 667-page amendment by independent Bernie Sanders that would replace much of the 2,074-page bill with a single payer healthcare system. It had no chance of passing, and Sanders withdrew the measure after it became clear it would take well into the night to read it.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has said other parliamentary maneuvers may be used to slow the bill as Democratic leaders aim for a final vote before Christmas.
“The opposition’s been going up, support’s been going down continuously as people learn more more about the bill,” McConnell said at a news conference.
The Senate slowdown began just as Democratic leaders appeared to be within reach of the 60 votes needed to pass the bill. Senator Joseph Lieberman appears ready to back the legislation after enraging liberal Democrats by forcing them to jettison the public option and a proposed alternative that would have allowed uninsured people between the ages of 55 and 64 to buy into Medicare.
Democratic leaders are now focused on Democratic Senator Ben Nelson who remains undecided as he reviews a potential compromise on abortion language that would ensure no public money is used to finance elective abortion services.
Senator Dick Durbin, the second leading Democrat in the Senate, said that in the end they may just have to force any fence sitters to make a decision.
“We may not be able to say we have this all signed in blood as we call the matter for a final vote,” he told reporters. “When members are confronted with the possibility of seeing an end to this healthcare debate and an end to the opportunity to expand healthcare, they may have to make that important decision.”
Time is running out. If Senate Democrats have any hope of bringing the healthcare bill to a final vote before Christmas. They have to start the procedural process on the final round of votes by the end of the week. But senators are still awaiting the details and official cost estimates of an amendment by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that will make the final compromises and adjustments to the bill ahead of the final vote.
Senator Max Baucus, who helped write the healthcare bill, said the first procedural vote could occur at about 1 a.m. Monday morning. If Republicans, who remain united in their opposition to the bill, do not allow an earlier vote, the Senate may not get to passage until late Christmas Eve. Bah Humbug!
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Photo credit: Reuters/Jim Young (Obama discusses healthcare Tuesday beneath a portrait of Republican President Theodore Roosevelt, an early advocate of national health insurance ); Reuters/Jason Reed (Senator Max Baucus before a committee healthcare vote in October)