Thursday, November 19, 2009


The Senate debate on Majority Leader Harry Reid’s health care bill will kick off Friday on the floor and rage until an 8 p.m. Saturday vote that will test the Democrats’ 60-member supermajority.

That is, unless one Republican senator gets his way.

The 2,074-page Senate health care bill would take 34 hours to read cover to cover — and that’s just what Sen. Tom Coburn wants done on the Senate floor.

The Oklahoma Republican has threatened to invoke parliamentary rules to force the Senate clerk (or more likely, a team of clerks) to read the massive bill before the full Senate begins formal debate on the legislation.

The move is strictly according to Senate rules, which say any senator can demand a bill be read in its entirety before debate begins. While Democrats could, if they wish, repeatedly make motions to end the soliloquy, Republicans on the floor could object, and the reading would continue.

What’s even more interesting is that Senate Rule XIV (paragraph 2) states that every bill and joint resolution “shall receive three readings prior to its passage.”

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“Upon demand of a senator, these readings shall be on three different legislative days,” the rules say.

A little quick math shows that at a minute a page — an easily achieved pace since the pages are double spaced and in a rather large type face — it would take 34.5 hours to read straight through the measure put together this week by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Republican leadership and gallery staff say the reading — with occasional pauses and sips of water for parched throats — could take more like 48 to 54 hours.

Pity the poor Senate clerks.

Democratic leaders don’t yet have the 60 votes required to start formal floor debate on the health care reform bill, but they hope that pledges to lower the deficit, improvements to affordability and, in one case, a home-state sweetener, could seal the deal.

All but three Democrats - Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana - are expected to support the procedural vote required to start debate on the bill that Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada introduced this week. The holdouts, all moderates, want a chance to review the 2,074-page bill as debate is scheduled to begin Friday and the first votes are planned for Saturday night.

The first vote - normally a procedural formality to start debate - is going to be far more important on the health care legislation as Democrats have to come up with all 60 votes themselves. Republicans have pegged the procedural measure as a vote on the merits of the legislation in an attempt to up the ante. They say that the legislation is far too flawed to be repaired through the amendment process, so they plan to vote against starting debate.

See how fast you can read the bill.

Jennifer Haberkorn contributed to this report.

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