Senators negotiating deal on final timing of health, debt-limit votes
By Paul Kane
Senate leaders are close to reaching a deal that would move up a final vote on President Obama's health-care legislation and also approve a temporary lift of the national debt ceiling, allowing a brief Christmas Eve session to settle the final issues on the 2009 congressional calendar.
With snow and ice storms threatening the Midwest, Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are in final negotiations to move up the time of the votes to early Thursday, according to senators and aides. Under the current schedule, Republicans could stretch out the health-care debate until almost 10 p.m. Thursday in what would be the first Christmas Eve session of the Senate since 1963.
Such a timeline would make traveling home all but impossible until Christmas morning, and the threat of bad winter weather over Midwestern hub airports in Chicago, Detroit and Minneapolis -- which serve as destinations or connection points for roughly half the Senate -- has created an extra sense of urgency to close the chamber early Thursday.
McConnell, after an early morning procedural vote Tuesday, said he was "working on an agreement that would give certainty" to senators' schedules. Republicans had been threatening to string out debate on final passage of the health-care bill until the very last hour permitted under chamber rules.The offering would include moving up the votes until Thursday, either just past midnight or not long past breakfast time. This would require Democrats to agree to allow the Republicans to offer up to four amendments to the debt limit legislation when it comes up for a longer-term extension in February.
"That's in the air," Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said Tuesday.
The debt-limit legislation has become a large political football for Democrats. Republicans have turned what is normally a rote annual exercise as the national debt has climbed to more than $12 trillion into a tough legislative maneuver this year, criticizing Democrats and the White House for spending "like drunken sailors" on Obama's domestic agenda without making any formal commitment to reining in the federal deficits.
Democratic deficit hawks have been demanding either a bipartisan commission that would have power to make spending cuts or implement pay-as-you-go rules that would require Congress to fund any new spending or tax cuts by requisite revenue increases through cutting spending in other programs or hiking other taxes. With those Democrats refusing to back a larger expansion of the debt limit, those talks dragged on throughout the fall and early winter without any resolve, so Democratic leaders decided to pass a temporary extension worth almost $300 billion. That will allow the Treasury to continue to manage the national debt through February, when Congress hopes to act on a longer-term fix.
Web Politics Editor
December 22, 2009; 12:43 PM ET
Categories: 44 The Obama Presidency , Health Care
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