Senate Hits New Roadblock in Health Care Debate

Updated 3:55 PM ET: The Senate hit a three-hour roadblock Wednesday afternoon in its negotiations over a health care reform bill, when Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., forced a reading of a 767-page amendment to the bill on the Senate floor.

Senators offering amendments on the floor usually ask for — and get — the consent of other senators to dispense with reading the whole text. But on Wednesday Coburn invoked his right to require the 767-page single-payer amendment offered by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to be read aloud in its entirety.

“What this is all about is to try to bring down health reform,” Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said in a press conference. “And this is a clear strategy.”

Durbin cited a “smoking Tweet” from the Twitter account of Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., as evidence that the Republicans were purposefully trying to stop the Senate from acting.

“Coburn forced Dems to read 767 pg Sanders amendment, we’ll do everything we can to stop this government takeover of health care,” was posted on DeMint’s account.

The standoff lasted three hours, until Sanders pulled his amendment.

Meanwhile, it appears the real action is still going on behind the scenes, as Democrats are still working to iron out intra-party disagreements. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., whose anti-abortion amendment to the bill was defeated last week, still has not promised his support.

With no Republicans on board, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada must reach a compromise that secures the votes of all 58 Democrats and two Independents in the Senate to pass the bill. Then, if he were to work out such a compromise, it would still take at least six days of procedural motions and votes to pass the final bill. Politico linked to a [useful summary](http://www.politico.com/static/PPM116_health_care_121509.html) of the process, which is called cloture, from Durbin’s office. In the meantime, delays may continue. Don Stewart, a spokesman for Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., indicated to NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman that Republicans are likely to force cloture votes on two other bills, which could delay a final vote on health care reform beyond Christmas. Asked whether he feared a public backlash against such delay tactics, Stewart noted that polls are showing that public opinion [has shifted](http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/15/AR2009121503717.html?nav=hcmodule) against the bill. –With reporting by Quinn Bowman