Harkin’s expectations on the reform calendar

HARKIN’S EXPECTATIONS ON THE REFORM CALENDAR…. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, talked to Bill Press today about how the debate over health care reform is likely to unfold over the next several weeks. Even with an aggressive push, Harkin still doesn’t expect a bill to be signed into law before January.

The Iowa Democrat said he expects the Congressional Budget Office to release its report tomorrow, at which point the leadership intends to bring the reform bill to the floor. He added, however, that the process of amending the legislation may not begin until after the Thanksgiving break.

Harkin also expects some petty obstructionist tactics from Senate Republicans, but has reportedly talked to Senate leaders about Democratic responses.

Harkin said Democrats expect Republicans will try to stall the debate by asking for the entire bill to be read on the Senate floor. If that happens, Harkin said, the majority party is likely to use a procedural maneuver to keep the Senate in session this weekend.

“If the Republicans want to stay here this Saturday and Sunday to read the bill, then let them stay here,” Harkin said, adding that Democrats would hold a “live quorum,” where the sergeant at arms requests the presence of all absent senators.

“I’ll tell you, we’re going to do something like that,” Harkin said. “We are planning to do something that would require Republicans to be there 24 hours a day, and if they leave the floor, we’ll ask unanimous consent to dispense with the reading, and that’ll be the end of it.”

That seems more than fair. If Republicans are going to try obstructionist tactics, the least Democrats can do is make it difficult for them.

Regardless, Harkin also outlined a calendar that included working every weekend in December, and long days (and nights) through the weekdays.

At this point, the backstop isn’t the end of the calendar year — it’s the State of the Union address in mid-January. It stands to reason most Democratic lawmakers do not want a situation in which President Obama stands in the well and has to explain to the nation why health care reform has not yet passed.