This was a vote on a formal amendment that had been offered by Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) to legislation making major changes in the national health care system. This formal amendment had no real impact on the bill. It was actually offered by Reid as an amendment to a pending, substantive amendment he had offered to the health care bill the Senate was considering. This was a procedural tactic to prevent opponents of the bill from offering further amendments to his substantive amendment: Under Senate rules, there is a limit on the number of amendments that can be offered to a pending amendment. By offering this essentially meaningless amendment to his pending substantive amendment, Sen. Reid was trying to reach that limit and block further Republican amendments from being offered.
During this period in late December of 2009, the Senate was spending most of its time in a heated debate over the legislation. The Democratic majority, which supported the bill, was making an effort to pass it before the Senate adjourned for the year. The Republican minority, which opposed the legislation, was using a variety of procedural tactics to slow down the consideration of the measure. Offering amendments to the health care bill, and then engaging in extended debate on those amendments, was one of those delaying tactics.
Senate Deputy Majority Leader Durbin (D-IL) supported the health care legislation and the effort by Sen. Reid to limit the offering of amendments to it. Durbin began his statement by referring both to the delaying tactic the Republicans were using, which they forced the Senate to delay any action until a long amendment to the legislation was read aloud, and to the Republican argument that the bill was changing and they did not have adequate time to consider the changes. Durbin said:“We just spent the last 7 1/2 or 8 hours having the clerks dutifully read this 383-page amendment. During that period of time, many of us have had a chance to read it ourselves. We have had staff explain it to us . . . .”
Dealing with the substance of the health care legislation, Durbin said “this health care reform bill, as amended, is the greatest deficit reduction bill in the history of the United States. We have now been told by the Congressional Budget Office this bill will not only reduce our deficit over the next 10 years by over $130 billion, but in the following 10 years, their new calculation is it will reduce the deficit of the United States up to $1.3 trillion.”
Sen. Coburn (R-OK) opposed the health care bill and was one of the leaders of the Republican effort to delay its passage. He claimed that the Democratic majority had “limited (Republicans) to 10 amendments over the last 2 weeks. They strung it out so we could not get our amendments up.” He also claimed that, because of the procedural tactic used by Sen. Reid in offering an amendment that had no impact, “we (Republicans) have no opportunity to amend. . . The American people should not trust that process.”
Coburn then dealt with the substance of the bill. He said: “It is going to cost lives because we are going to allow the federal government to determine what treatment you can get, when you can get that treatment, and who is going to give it to you.” He also said it is “going to cut $1 trillion out of (Medicare) over the next 10 years (and) . . . (I)t is unlikely that key cost containment provisions that are in this bill will remain intact.” Responding to Sen. Durbin’s reference to the Congressional Budget Office report, Coburn said the “Congressional Budget Office cannot predict that the quality of care will not decline.”
The amendment was approved by a vote of 60-39 along straight party lines. All sixty “aye” votes were cast by Democrats. All “nay” votes were cast by the Republicans present. As a result, the formal Reid amendment was added to the bill and the Senate was able to move toward a final vote on the health care legislation.