- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Republican senator is forcing Senate clerks to read aloud a 767-page amendment to the Democrats’ health care overhaul bill that would establish a single-payer national health care system.

Typically, lawmakers allow the required reading of legislation on the Senate floor to be waived, but not this time.

A spokesman for Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma said Mr. Coburn objected to waiving the reading of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ amendment to educate the public.

“He believes a reading of the amendment would help the American people understand the competing approaches to reform,” said John Hart, a spokesman for Mr. Coburn. He hopes to “highlight the real debate, which is between government-run health care and patient-centered health care.”

Mr. Coburn, a physician who opposes the Democrats’ health bill, plans to require all 767 pages of the amendment to be read, which is expected to take 16 to 24 hours, Mr. Hart said.

Throughout the health care reform debate, Democrats have accused Republicans of obstructing movement on the bill and other legislation, including a bill to fund the Department of Defense’s budget.

“The only thing that Sen. Coburn’s stunt achieves is to stop us from moving to the DoD appropriations bill that funds our troops — not exactly the kind of Christmas gift that our troops were expecting from Dr. No,” said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

Mr. Sanders brushed off Mr. Coburn’s objection as yet another Republican delay tactic but jokingly thanked him for the free advertising for the single-payer system.

“I would simply say that Senator Coburn is so impressed by the Medicare-for-all, single-payer program that he apparently feels that all the people of our country have got to hear every single word for the next many, many hours about how a single-payer program would be the only way to bring universal, comprehensive, cost-effective health care to all Americans,” Mr. Sanders said. “So I really do appreciate his desire to make the American people know this through 10 or 12 or 14 hours of the reading. But I think he may have overdone it a little bit.”

Mr. Coburn had threatened to force a reading of the entire health care reform bill when it was first introduced, but negotiated an additional day of debate instead.

The amendment, to establish a single-payer national health care system, has very few supporters in the Senate and is likely to fail. But grass-roots supporters of the plan are angry at lawmakers for not seriously considering it.

“Dr. Coburn admires Senator Sanders for fighting publicly what many advocate only privately,” Mr. Hart said.

Mr. Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with Democrats, walked up to Mr. Coburn shortly after the objection and tried to waive the reading a second time. Shortly after Mr. Coburn objected again, Mr. Sanders left the chamber.

Mr. Coburn plans to stay on the Senate floor for the reading of the bill, Mr. Hart said. If he or another Republican isn’t there to object, Democrats could try to waive the reading again.

• Jennifer Haberkorn can be reached at jhaberkorn@washingtontimes.com.old.

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