Ho, Ho, Ho, Health Reform?

After a brief huddle outside the Senate chamber this afternoon, Democrats resolved to stay in session -- even, possibly, on Christmas -- to get a health reform vote. My colleague Z. Byron Wolf has more:

It is day three of the health reform debate in the Senate and there has not yet been a vote on a single amendment.

Democrats, with their eye on a pledge to pass a reform bill through the Senate this year, are getting antsy. They broke the debate for an hour to plot strategy behind closed doors and emerged threatening to use parliamentary tactics to dismiss Republican amendments if the delay continues and pledging stay in session on Christmas Day if needed to pass a health reform bill through the Senate.

Both sides offered their first amendments Monday. Democrats wanted to create a baseline of preventive services for all women receiving insurance. Republicans wanted to cut nearly half a trillion in cuts to future Medicare costs that Democrats envision as paying for the bill. The Republican proposal would effectively kill the health reform bill by stripping one of its major funding sources.

But there has been no agreement to vote on either amendment yet.

Republicans say they just want more time to discuss their amendment, which was offered by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

“I might say that we -- we want to vote on the McCain amendment. we certainly have no desire to delay that vote. but do have a number of people who want to speak to it,” said Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, Tuesday night.

Republican leaders said Wednesday they would not be rushed.

“The people expect to have a right to weigh in. The Senate is a place where we have generally unlimited debate, generally unlimited amendments, so we’re just getting started on this,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., although he said he was not aware of the specific Republican objections that have delayed the first votes.

Democrats say the Republicans are just being dilatory.

“How can you have an honest debate about a bill of this seriousness and magnitude if you can't bring a measure to a vote on the floor?” asked Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the Senate’s number two Democrat, in a speech on the floor.

“We've talked about (the McCain amendment). We know what's in it. We should vote on it,” Durbin said, arguing, “But the Republicans don't want to vote on it. They want to drag this out in the hopes that our desire to go home for Christmas means we'll walk away from health care reform. well, if a few of the Republican senators could have just left the Democratic caucus, they would know better. we are determined to bring this bill to a vote. We are determined to bring real health care reform to this country. we know what's at stake.”

By the numbers, a Christmas health reform showdown is looking more likely.

Republicans have argued that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., spent a month and four days crafting the bill behind closed doors in his office, with help from other Democrats in the Senate and at the White House. Staffers argue that the bill should be on the Senate floor at least that long. By that logic, a month and four days from the vote that put the bill on the floor November 21th would indeed be December 25th.

That said, lawmakers show a remarkable ability to get things done as holidays approach.

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