Health Reform Nearly Snarls Troop Funding Bill

Dec 18, 2009 6:51am

ABC News' Z. Byron Wolf reports: Partisanship was on display as Democrats defeated a Republican bid in the wee hours of Friday morning to filibuster of the $636 billion troop funding bill and thus delay health reform legislation to the new year. Democrats, attempting to lend weight to the procedural vote to cut off debate on the Defense Appropriations bill, which funds the Pentagon and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (and much more cast votes from their seats. Republicans rejected the significance of the vote and made their votes, as Senators usually do, standing in the well of the Senate. Democrats, set on passing their health reform bill before Christmas, will keep the body in session through the weekend and into Christmas eve, with the potential for a number of all-night sessions. Republicans’ bid to delay the troop funding bill (and health reform) failed with help from anti-war Democrats who had to support the war funding bill. The only time most Democratic Senators rose was when 92 year-old Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.V., who has not made many votes recently, was wheeled into the chamber to vote. Democrats gave him a standing ovation. He could be yelling “Shame!” at the Republicans across the aisle. The final vote tally was 63-33. Several Republicans voted for the troops bill when it became clear that Democrats had secured the 60 votes to cut off debate. Republicans, who objected to passing the bill after the cloture vote, are likely to insist that all time for debate be utilized on the bill. A vote on final passage, which only requires 50 votes, is slated for 7am Saturday morning. Despite the final tally, there was no doubt that Senate Republicans sought to filibuster the mammoth $636 billion troop and war funding bill (with many more things added in) on the day Pentagon funding was to expire. Democrats scheduled the vote for 1 a.m. Friday morning, just days after the House of Representatives passed the bill, in order to make the timeline of the Defense appropriations measure fit in with their aim of passing a health reform bill through the Senate by Christmas. Republicans objected to the timing of the vote, saying they would have supported cloture at another time and pointing out that Democrats could have brought the Defense bill up earlier. Although they did object to an expedited schedule for the bill, which passed both houses earlier in the year and was reconciled with the House of Representatives Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Minority Leader suggested Republicans would move straight to the defense bill if Democrats shelved the health care bill.  ”Our advice would be to stop trying to pass this health care bill before Christmas… and move to the "necessary business of funding the government,” he said. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., disputed that the Republicans’ vote against cutting off debate was a filibuster.  ”Don't blame republicans for being here at 1am in the morning the week before Christmas,” he said. “We're not the reason the bill hasn't been brought up before now.” But Democrats, who took the rare move of casting voting from their seats, said Republicans should separate the troop funding bill from the health reform debate and vote in favor of ending the debate. On the other side of the aisle, Republicans milled around the well of the Senate like usual, rejecting the importance of the vote. “What in the world does a filibuster like this say to our troops?” asked Sen. Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee. “They should know they have the full support of our congress when they're in the field,” he said. It was not easy for Democrats to marshal all their 60 of their caucus members to break procedural roadblock. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., has long opposed funding for the war in Iraq and believes that troops should be withdrawn from Afghanistan. But he voted to cut off debate on the Defense bill. “I do not support the defense funding bill and I will vote against it.  But I am not going to be part of a partisan and cynical effort to delay passage of the defense bill in order to block the Senate from considering health care reform.  I will decide how to vote on health care when the final bill is before the Senate.   But the Senate should be allowed to continue debating and voting on health care reform legislation,” said Feingold in a paper statement issued Wednesday night. The decision was doubly hard for Feingold; he supports a public option health insurance option like the one Democratic leaders have yanked from their health reform bill to mollify moderates in the party. Not all Democrats abided by the request by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to vote from their seats. Independent Democrat Joe Lieberman, who has made his vote on the health reform bill difficult for Democrats to secure, stoop up midway through the vote and spoke with Republicans on their side of the aisle.

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