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Viagra vote stalls HCR in Senate

Senate Democrats on Wednesday vowed to vote against Republican amendments that call for barring sex offenders from getting Viagra, enrolling Congress in Medicaid and eliminating "sweetheart" deals if it means closing the final chapter of President Obama's health care overhaul plan.

Republicans are forcing votes on dozens of amendments - many that will provide fodder for campaign attack ads - to the Senate's reconciliation bill, which changes parts of the health care reform bill Mr. Obama signed into law on Tuesday.

"Republicans will give Democrats one last chance to reject the horrible impact the underlying bill and this last-minute add-on will have on our country," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. "Unfortunately, we already know that they plan to turn the other way."

Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said Democrats would defeat the amendments now to swiftly pass the reconciliation bill and suggested that Democrats may re-offer some of the amendments in the future to ensure the record will reflect the accurate positions of lawmakers.

"We will uniformly say that all of these votes are obviously meant for the purposes of obstructing the final element of reform," he said.

The so-called "vote-a-rama" frenzy of amendments started Wednesday night and was expected to last through Thursday amid a heightened sense of frustration on Capitol Hill. Republicans used rules to shut down some Senate committee work, including two on contracting and military work in Afghanistan, as a sign of their discontent with the health care reform plan.

"It's unconscionable," said Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "Our national security cannot be held hostage by a disagreement about health care policy."

Both sides have used the tactic to display their displeasure with policy, but Mr. Levin called this the "worst" instance he has seen.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, meanwhile, said he is concerned about the safety of fellow Democrats after law enforcement found a severed gas line at the home of a Virginia Democrat's brother and threatening voice mails were left for other members who supported the bill on Sunday. He asked Republicans to condemn the acts.

In the Senate, Republicans lined up dozens of amendments to the bill, including proposals to allow states to opt out of the health care reform plan, eliminate a medical device tax for wounded veterans and require Mr. Obama to purchase health insurance through the government exchanges. All of the amendments were expected to fail largely along party lines. If any amendments pass, the bill would have to go back to the House for another vote before becoming law.

The White House pre-empted the vote on the exchange amendment and said Mr. Obama would obtain coverage through the exchange. Most Americans who have insurance through their employers - in Mr. Obama's case, the federal government - would not be allowed to enter the exchange.

Democrats are passing the repair bill under reconciliation, which circumvents a Republican filibuster, but allows them to offer an unlimited number of amendments. As of Wednesday evening, Republicans had proposed more than 20, which would take the Senate at least nine hours to address.

Republicans also have an opportunity to change the bill by asserting that it doesn't live up to the strict reconciliation rules that say each provision of the legislation must be directly related to the budget. But the Senate's parliamentarian has not signaled that he would side with Republicans on any of the proposals.

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