Capitol Hill Republicans are crafting hundreds of amendments in hopes of tripping up the health care overhaul if Democrats scrape up the votes needed to resuscitate the long-stalled measure by week’s end.
Even though Democratic leaders on Sunday conceded they didn’t yet have the votes to pass President Obama’s overhaul out of the House, Senate Republicans are threatening to put up hundreds of amendments — one of the few weapons in their limited arsenal — to force Democrats to take difficult votes on politically sensitive subjects.
Amendments don’t have to be relevant to the subject matter under the controversial tactic Democrats are using to avoid a filibuster, so Republicans can force Democrats to take tough votes on any number of matters, such as closing the detention facility for terrorism suspects at the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
But they won’t reveal any details ahead of time.
“Discussion about what we might do is something I wouldn’t engage in in any event, because I don’t particularly want to tell the other side, and secondly, we’re optimistic that we may not have to get to that point,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told reporters.
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Democratic leaders said they can’t risk passing any amendments to the bill, even if they agree with them. If they were to pass, it would require more time — and possibly more votes — to marry the Senate legislation with what passed in the House.
Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent, who caucuses with Democrats, is considering offering an amendment to establish a public insurance option, his spokesman said. It’s a program that liberal Democrats have embraced and Mr. Sanders believes deserves a vote in the Senate.
Democratic leaders in both chambers pushed the public option aside on the assumption it couldn’t get 60, or even 50, Senate votes. The president did not include it in his plan, either.
Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois says Democrats may be asked to vote against issues they feel strongly about, including the public plan.
“We have to tell people, ‘You just have to swallow hard and say that putting an amendment on this is going to stop it or slow it down, and we can’t just let it happen.’ We have to move this forward,” he said.
“We know the Republicans are likely to offer a lot of amendments, and some of them may be appealing to Democrats, but we’re going to have to urge them to stick with the bill.”
Before the bill can get a vote in the Senate, it has to pass the House, where Democrats don’t yet have the 216 votes they need. House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he doesn’t have the votes but expects to be successful.
Twelve of those “no” votes come from a group concerned that the Senate bill would federally fund abortions, according to Rep. Bart Stupak, Michigan Democrat. But House leaders signaled last week that there is no way to change the abortion language through reconciliation and that they intend to work around the 12. Other Democrats questioned whether the dozen “no” votes would hold.
Other rank-and-file Democrats have expressed concern that the Senate bill doesn’t have as extensive reforms in the way hospitals and other service providers are reimbursed for treating Medicare patients. The Senate bill also doesn’t have as generous subsidies to help the poor and middle class purchase insurance.
But White House officials expect the House to vote on the Senate bill and a package of repairs this week, before Mr. Obama leaves Sunday for an international trip.
The repair bill would then move to the Senate, where Democrats plan to pass it through reconciliation, a complicated procedural tool that only needs 51 votes and eliminates the chance of a Republican filibuster.
Republican lawmakers, citing prolonged public opposition to the overhaul, have begun accusing Mr. Obama and Democrats of pursuing a “bitter, destructive and endless” drive to pass the overhauls.
“An entire year has gone to waste,” Sen. Scott Brown said in the weekly GOP radio and Internet address. “Millions of Americans have lost their jobs, and many more jobs are in danger. Even now, the president still hasn’t gotten the message.
“Somehow, the greater the public opposition to the health care bill, the more determined they seem to force it on us anyway.”
Mr. Brown himself can claim responsibility for the Democrats’ failure to pass health overhaul legislation to date. They were on the verge of doing so before Mr. Brown claimed the late Edward M. Kennedy’s Senate seat in a special election upset in Massachusetts in January, depriving Democrats of their filibuster-proof supermajority and throwing the health care effort into limbo.
Public polls suggest that the majority of Americans are opposed to the sweeping legislation, which would extend coverage to some 30 million uninsured Americans with a new mandate for nearly everyone to carry insurance.
House Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio pledged on CNN’s “State of the Union” that Republicans are “going to do everything we can to make it difficult for them, if not impossible, to pass the bill.”
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs predicted on “Fox News Sunday” that Democrats would have the votes within a week. Mr. Obama plans to visit Ohio on Monday to continue to push for passage of the plan.
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.