The Senate was in session all weekend, but not much happened, at least on the floor. The real action was in the office of Senate majority leader Harry Reid, who’s doing everything he can to find enough votes to pass his health-care bill. As one GOP Senate aide told me: “They’re just marking time until they can find a deal that gets them to 60 — if they can.”
The Republican opposition strategy in the Senate has been simple: Offer lots of amendments. Senators filed 43 amendments on Friday and 16 on Saturday. The GOP hopes to make Democrats squirm by forcing tough votes on Medicare cuts, malpractice reform, and taxes.
Summing up the first week of the Senate’s health-care debate, the New York Times editorial page called it “a depressing mixture of foolish posturing by members of both parties and blatant obstructionism by Republicans. If this is the best the Senate can do, we are in for very rough going.” Republicans may laugh at the NYT’s worries, but there are still legitimate questions about whether the GOP’s amendment strategy makes sense — for Republicans.
Sure, Republicans can make Democrats cast tough votes, but they’re also giving moderate Democrats up for re-election in 2010 — such as Sen. Evan Bayh (D., Ind.) and Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D., Ark.) — the chance to vote with the GOP on minor issues (as a means of currying favor in their home states) and still support the broader legislation. Reid could care less if Republicans score political points on Medicare, as long as he gets his 60 votes in the end. GOP amendments also let Reid give Democrats such as Sen. Bob Casey (Pa.) and Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.) the chance to break ranks on tough issues (such as abortion) and “put up a good fight,” before coming home to the Democratic caucus by Christmas.
So Republicans face a dilemma: Either continue to offer amendments and try to generate more public opposition to the legislation, or just sit back quietly and hope that Reid’s bill collapses on its own. The fact that Republicans have pursued an amendment strategy shows that they’re worried.