Tales from the Trail

Senate healthcare debate: hot time in cold room

It’s been likened to watching paint dry – the long-awaited debate in the Senate Finance Committee over a sweeping overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system. USA-MURALS/

The panel, which prides itself as one of a few in Congress that operates in a bipartisan atmosphere, is in its third day of deliberations. But it has dispensed with only a few of the more than 500 amendments proposed to the legislation put forward by Committee Chairman Max Baucus.

After a delay at the start of Thursday’s session as Baucus waited for senators to arrive to present their amendments, things started to heat up in the freezing cold hearing room.

Discussion began over a proposal by Republican Senator Orrin Hatch that would have required a certification that no more than 1 million people would lose their insurance as a condition of implementing the bill. The debate quickly turned into an angry exchange over which party has the better ideas when it comes to fixing a $2.5 trillion system that almost everyone agrees is too costly and leaves too many people without medical coverage.

Tempers flared when Baucus, a Democrat who has remained upbeat about his bill’s prospects despite taking fire from all sides, made a remark about the lack of a plan from the opposition party. That brought howls of protests from Republicans and Senator Jon Kyl shot back: “We don’t believe in a massive government takeover. You will not see a massive Republican bill to do anything like that.”

Whiskey, not champagne, at GOP party

PHOENIX — It was a night for drinking whiskey rather than champagne at the Arizona Biltmore.
 
As Republican John McCain prepared his concession speech in a private room at the landmark Phoenix hotel, bottles of bubbly were most certainly not being popped in a nearby ballroom where long-faced Republicans were marking time. 
 
The race hadn’t yet been called for Barack Obama, but McCain had already lost Ohio, Pennsylvania and other key battleground states. But the giant TV screens weren’t showing election returns, and many still held out hope.
 
“Tonight as of right now, it’s still too close to call,” Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl told the crowd. “Win or lose, we’re going to have a tough four years ahead of us. We’re going to have to be a firewall against this radical leftist agenda.” 

Software engineer Ken Wharton likewise wasn’t ready to concede defeat.
 
“I’m going to wait until the end. It’s not over until it’s over,” said Wharton, who said he was worried that Obama would cut the military budget and back reparations for slavery.
 
Wedding planner Cynthia Ghelf likewise said she wouldn’t assume the worst until the California polls closed in half an hour. But she already had an escape plan: “I feel like we should move to Canada,” she said.
 
Ghelf’s friend Katie Kiesel, a stay-at-home mom, said she hoped the Republican party would learn to reach out to younger and more moderate voters and cater less to the conservative wing.
 
Others said the party should steer a course to the right. 
 
“He could have been a little more conservative,” Baptist preacher Jim Selma said of McCain. “His best move was appointing Sarah Palin. I think that energized the  base, and when he moved back toward the middle it got boring, I think, for the Republican side.”
 
By that point, officials were urging the partygoers to clear out of the ballroom and head to the hotel’s lawn. Polls on the West Coast were closing soon, and the results would be known quickly. It was time for McCain to speak.

Click here for more Reuters 2008 campaign coverage.

- Photo credit: Reuters/Rick Scuteri (A McCain supporter looks on at McCain concession speech)