This was a vote on a motion to invoke cloture and bring the debate to an end on an amendment that had been offered by Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV). The amendment had been offered to legislation making major changes in the national health care system. The amendment was a procedural one that made no significant impact on the bill. It was actually offered as an amendment to another pending amendment Reid had offered to the health care bill the Senate was considering.
The offering of this formal amendment was a tactic to prevent opponents of the bill from offering their amendments to the bill: 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 amendment, Sen. Reid was trying to reach that limit and prevent any other 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 health care 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.
House 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. He referenced one of the delaying tactics being used by the Republicans, which was to force the reading of all amendments in order to delay legislative business; he also responded to the argument that the Republicans had been making that the substance of the legislation and meaningful amendments that were being offered to it had not been available long enough for senators to properly consider them.
Durbin said that the major amendment to which Reid’s innocuous amendment had been offered “has just been read on the floor has been posted on the Internet now for more than 4 hours . . . All of America will get a chance to read this bill in its entirety today, tomorrow, and Monday, before the (final) vote (on the health care legislation) is going to be taken . . . on Tuesday morning, so America will have a chance, as it should, because it is a critically important issue.”
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, 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 claimed that what the Democratic majority really wants to accomplish by this legislation is “to increase the role of the federal government in health care and prevent private health plans from really competing.” He referred to a key provision in the legislation that prevented insurers from declining to cover an individual because of a pre-existing health condition. Coburn argued: “Congress can hold insurers accountable and cover pre-existing conditions without increasing federal control of health care. The government does not have a good record with programs. The government already controls too much of health care. Uncle Sam is directly or indirectly financially directing nearly two thirds of all health care. Roughly one out of 3 Americans is already on Medicaid and Medicare--programs which are going bankrupt.”
The cloture motion carried by a vote of 60-39 along straight party lines. All sixty “aye” votes were cast by Democrats. All thirty-nine “nay” votes were cast by the Republicans present. As a result, debate was ended on the formal amendment that had been offered by Senator Reid, and the Senate was able to move toward a final vote on the health care legislation.