Senate Health Care Debate Stalls as Republicans Invoke Delay Tactics

Senate Democratic leaders still may not have the votes they need to pass bill.

ByABC News
December 16, 2009, 10:17 AM

WASHINGTON, Dec. 16, 2009— -- The Democrats' self-imposed deadline to pass health care legislation by Christmas is just around the corner, but delays abound and there are no guarantees that Senate leaders will have enough votes to pass the bill.

President Obama said in an interview with ABC News' Charles Gibson today that if Congress fails to pass health care legislation that lowers costs, the federal government "will go bankrupt."

He also painted a gloomy picture resulting from the failure of health care overhaul.

"Anybody who says that they are concerned about deficit, concerned about debt, concerned about loading up taxes on future generations, you have to be supportive of this health care bill because if we don't do this, nobody argues with the fact that health care costs are going to consume the entire federal budget," the president said.

Watch Charles Gibson's interview with President Obama tonight on World News.

On Capitol Hill, Democrats faced further delays today as Republicans demanded that an amendment in the health care bill that would introduce a single-payer system be read on the Senate floor -- all 766 pages.

Such delays by GOP lawmakers could force senators to stay in session through Christmas or force Democrats to wait until next year to vote on their health care overhaul bill.

The amendment offered by independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont would throw out Democrats' health care plan and replace it with a single-payer system. It was doomed for failure from the start, but liberal Democrats wanted the opportunity to vote to show that it did not have the votes to pass.

Normally, senators allow their amendments to be entered into the record without actually making the clerk read them. But Republican Tom Coburn, the Oklahoma doctor who opposes Democrats' health care overhaul efforts, objected when Democrats tried to enter an amendment into the record today, saying the amendment must be offered 72 hours in advance and with a full cost assessment. He then invoked his right to require that the amendment be read out loud.

Senators resumed debate in the afternoon after Sanders withdrew his amendment, saying the Republican delaying tactic was an "outrage." The Vermont senator, whose vote Democrats will need to pass the health care bill, said today he has not yet signed on to the latest push by Democratic leaders.

"At this point I'm not on board," Sanders said at a press conference today. "The function of private insurance companies is not to provide health care it's to make a profit."

The debate is heating up in the Senate as some Democrats remain divided on what a health care bill should entail, even as it enters its final phase.

Obama said he likes the Senate health care compromise and wants it passed by Christmas, but he faces a revolt from some liberals who say the health care bill has been gutted to appease insurance companies.

"This is a bigger bailout for the insurance industry than AIG," former Democratic National Committee chairman and medical doctor Howard Dean told "Good Morning America's" George Stephanopoulos today. "A very small number of people are going to get any insurance at all, until 2014, if the bill works.

"This is an insurance company's dream, this bill," Dean continued. "This is the Washington scramble, and I think it's ill-advised."

The White House today pushed back on Dean's comments, saying his arguments "simply weren't true" and "flat-out wrong."

"If this is an insurance company's dream, I think the insurance companies have yet to get the memo," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters today. "Insurance companies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying against this legislation. ... If this is such a good deal for them, I'm not entirely sure why they're fighting it."

""I would ask Dr. Dean, is it -- how better do you address those that don't have insurance, passing a bill that covers 30 million that don't currently have it, or killing a bill? I don't think any rational person would say killing a bill makes any sense at this point," Gibbs added.

Democratic leaders will likely scrap the alternative they had developed for a government-run insurance option, the so-called Medicare buy-in, which, if included, would have allowed Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 to buy into Medicare. The central tenets of that compromise reached last week among Democrats were stripped from the bill because of the objections of independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who said he would not support the legislation if it contained that option "because it reportedly has some of the same infirmities that the public option did."

Democratic leaders need Lieberman's vote to avoid a Republican filibuster, but liberals are unhappy, saying the bill has been modified to please one senator.