Who's to blame for odd timing of healthcare votes?

The GOP bears a large share of the responsibility for late night and holiday sessions being used to pass reform

Published December 21, 2009 11:33PM (EST)

One of the perks of serving in Congress is that members generally get quite a bit of vacation time, and pretty good hours as well. Elected officials aren't normally wild about working into the wee hours, though they'll do it when they have to. And on Monday morning, they did have to -- a procedural vote on healthcare reform was held at about 1 a.m. EST.

If you listen to reform opponents, there was a reason for the hour at which the vote was held, and a reason that the up-or-down vote on the bill is slated to take place on Christmas Eve: The Democrats are trying to pass the legislation under the cover of darkness.

"This Congress, this leadership, is so tone deaf and so hell bent on propping up a policy that the American people doesn’t (sic) want, that they’re willing to basically flip the bird to the American people on this issue and slip it in in the dead of night," Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said after the vote, expressing a sentiment that's become common on the right. You can bet, too, that Steele and others will have similar things to say if that Christmas Eve vote happens as scheduled -- the farther reaches of the right might add some anti-Christian charges against Senate Democrats, to boot.

What Republicans aren't saying, though, is that they bear as much responsibility for the schedule as Senate Democrats do, maybe more. True, Majority Leader Harry Reid could just decide to blow his self-imposed deadline and not get the bill passed before Christmas. But if Republicans would drop delaying tactics they're currently using, or agree to give up some of the debate time they're allowed under Senate rules, the votes would be conducted at more normal hours and with enough time for everyone to get home for Christmas Eve. At this point, it's clear that the bill will pass -- at least this time around, we'll see what happens after the House and Senate confer -- and that the delaying tactics are only that.

There is a possibility that Senate Republicans will decide to allow the final vote before the evening of the 24th; there were reports that they were discussing that possibility Monday. But now that they've dug in, they'd face an angry base if they did back down.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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