Senate GOP starts taking hostages on healthcare

Protesting the healthcare bill, Republicans forced committee hearings to be canceled for a second straight day


Mike Madden
March 24, 2010 10:28PM (UTC)

If Senate Republicans can't get their way on healthcare reform, apparently they won't let anyone in the place get anything else done, either.

For the second day in a row, GOP lawmakers used an obscure Senate rule to prevent committees from meeting more than 2 hours after the chamber convened its business or after 2 p.m. Eastern. That's technically against the rules, but usually lawmakers agree to let those meetings go on anyway. Not this week. So an Armed Services panel hearing on U.S. Pacific Command and policy toward North Korea, scheduled for 2:30 p.m.? Canceled. An appropriations subcommittee meeting on the budget for the Office of Personnel Management? Not happening. The same fate befell a hearing on contracts for training the Afghan national police, another on how a Drug Enforcement Administration crackdown on bogus prescriptions is affecting pain management for nursing home patients and a meeting to discuss two judicial nominations. (At least the potential judges must be used to the delays; the GOP has already slowed judicial confirmations down as much as possible.)

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What makes the tactic a little mystifying is that it does nothing at all to block consideration of the healthcare reform bill. The Senate is chugging through 20 required hours of debate on the bill now. Committees have nothing to do with it. Republicans are already busy filing silly amendments to do things like ban rapists from getting the government to pay for Viagra, or to require the District of Columbia to hold a referendum on the city's new law allowing gay marriage. (Raise your hand if you can figure out how that one relates to healthcare reform.) Those ploys, at least, can screw up the healthcare bill or delay a final vote on passage. But stopping committees from meeting just looks petulant.

"It's pure unadulterated obstructionism for the sake of obstructionism," Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told Salon. In a separate statement, he mocked the GOP. "Let me get this straight: in retaliation for our efforts to have an up-or-down vote to improve health care reform, Republicans are blocking an Armed Services committee hearing to discuss critical national security issues?" Manley said.

It's not even entirely clear who's orchestrating the whole thing. An aide to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., didn't answer a question about the tactic. When Democrats tried Wednesday to get consent to let the Armed Services Committee meet to talk about the Pentagon's budget request for the Pacific fleet and for Korea, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., objected. But he said he wouldn't mind if the panel met, since he's on the committee; he was objecting on behalf of another Republican, who he didn't name.

Expect hijinks like that to continue for the rest of the week. And expect Democrats to vote to pass the healthcare reform budget reconciliation package when all is said and done, regardless.


Mike Madden

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

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