Clearing the first major hurdle in the Senate

CLEARING THE FIRST MAJOR HURDLE IN THE SENATE…. At 1:19 a.m. (ET), the Senate voted to end the debate on the Manager’s Amendment to health care reform. It needed 60 votes to advance, and it passed, 60 to 40. Every member of the Democratic caucus voted for it, and every Republican voted against it. (The roll call is online here.)

Even as the debate continued last night, the quality of the GOP criticism has not improved.

“It’s obvious why the majority has cooked up this amendment in secret, has introduced it in the middle of a snowstorm, has scheduled the Senate to come in session at midnight, has scheduled a vote for 1 a.m., is insisting that it be passed before Christmas — because they don’t want the American people to know what’s in it,” said Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee.

Alexander has been around long enough to know that what he’s saying is patently ridiculous. Regardless of whether one approves or disapproves of the reform bill, the odd voting times are the result of Republican obstructionism, not Democratic embarrassment.

In fact, I’m confident that if the GOP caucus would scrap its delaying tactics, the majority would agree to hold the debate in prime time before heading home for the holidays.

But that, of course, isn’t going to happen. As Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told reporters, Republicans feel the need to fight until the last possible minute on Christmas Eve. “There is nothing inevitable about this,” Cornyn said.

Reality suggests otherwise. As Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) put, “If the Republicans want to exercise every single right they have under the rules, they can keep us here until Christmas Eve, no doubt about it. But to what end, I ask? To what end? We’re going to have the vote at 1 a.m. that requires 60 votes, and then why stay here until Christmas Eve to do what they know we’re going to do?”

The debate itself was largely predictable, but Sen. Tom Coburn’s (R-Okla.) remarks stood out, as they often do: “What the American people ought to pray is that somebody can’t make the vote tonight. That’s what they ought to pray.”

The veiled comment made it seem as if Coburn may have had nefarious intentions towards someone in the Democratic caucus. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) responded to Coburn by lamenting “the malignant and vindictive passions that have descended on the Senate.” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) added that he was “troubled” by Coburn’s remarks, and encouraged the right-wing senator to “come back to the floor and explain exactly what he meant.”

Coburn did not.

Nevertheless, the process continues. We talked over the weekend about the schedule, but as a reminder, the next vote is expected tomorrow morning, around 7:30 a.m. (ET), when senators will vote, up or down, on the Manager’s Amendment. Unless Republicans drop their delaying efforts, the chamber is still on track for an up-or-down vote on health care reform between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve.