GOP filibusters to stall Senate health care vote

August 14, 1994|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Washington Bureau of The Sun Sun staff writer John Fairhall contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- Republicans launched a Senate filibuster yesterday against President Clinton's health care reform proposal, adding yet another burden to an effort already very close to collapse.

The unusual Saturday session, during which Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell had hoped to begin voting on amendments to his version of the Clinton bill, was spent in a procedural quagmire with a few senators from both parties making speeches largely for the C-SPAN television audience.

"We have an agenda," Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas said at a news conference. "We want the American people to understand what's in the Mitchell bill. We're going to take all the time we need."

At the same moment, Republican leaders of the House and Senate underscored their determination to continue to block consideration of the $33 billion crime bill unless it is rewritten to meet their objections, which House Majority Whip David E. Bonior of Michigan called "numerous."

Beyond all the difficulty in resurrecting the crime bill in the House, which sent it into limbo last week, Mr. Dole would not rule out the possibility of a Senate filibuster -- even if a controversial ban on assault weapons is removed.

"This is the party of do little and delay," Mr. Bonior said of the Republicans. The GOP will do all in its power to block both of President Clinton's top legislative priorities before the fall midterm elections, he said.

The president is still reeling from last week's House defeat of a procedural measure that would have allowed the crime bill to come to the floor for a final vote. He complained yesterday that it was engineered by Republicans in cooperation with the gun lobby.

"Two hundred and twenty-five members of Congress participated in a procedural trick orchestrated by the National Rifle Association and intensely pushed by the Republican congressional leadership, a trick designed with one thing in mind: to put the protection of partisan and special interests over the protection of ordinary American families," Mr. Clinton said in his weekly radio address. "They ought to be ashamed of themselves."

Newt Gingrich of Georgia, the House Republican Whip, smiled broadly at the Capitol Hill news conference with Mr. Dole, as he responded to the president: "You've had a lousy couple days. . . . It would be nice for you to back off from the partisan attacks."

The Republicans have good reason to smile. Their opposition to both bills that are now at the center of the Clinton presidency wouldn't matter as much if Mr. Clinton didn't have serious problems drawing support from lawmakers within his own party.

Fifty-eight Democrats, including rural conservatives and urban blacks, joined more than 90 percent of the 178 Republicans in blocking the crime bill vote Thursday. Mr. Bonior made a public appeal yesterday for Republicans to desert their leaders -- an implicit testimony to House leaders' view of the difficulty in changing those Democratic votes .

As for the Clinton campaign to overhaul the nation's health care system, the GOP delaying tactics rank at this point as a minor annoyance. So awesome are the obstacles that the mood among supporters of the Clinton effort is grim.

"I think the whole thing is imploding," said one outside advocate of the Clinton plan, who did not wish to be publicly identified with the sentiment.

Neither the House nor Senate version of the Clinton proposal has the votes to pass without substantial amendments.

Both Mr. Mitchell and House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri have boiler rooms of bill drafters in the Capitol working overtime to craft changes that will lure new votes.

House members, who had been scheduled to begin their debate on health care tomorrow, will try to resurrect the crime bill this week, then slip out of town -- probably for the rest of the month.

Among the many problems facing House Democratic leaders has been a delay in getting the Congressional Budget Office to analyze the several alternatives to the Gephardt plan.

Of particular significance is a bipartisan proposal that promises to expand health insurance coverage to 90 percent of Americans from the current 85 percent without requiring people to buy it or raising taxes for government subsidies.

"We need the CBO to say this doesn't work," said Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Baltimore Democrat active in promoting the Clinton plan.

Perhaps the only ray of hope for passing health care reform legislation this year is shining in the Senate, where a bipartisan group of a dozen or so moderates or "mainstreamers" is working to present Mr. Mitchell with a package of "fixes" that would draw their votes.

"With all the different factions in the Senate, we need to have two groups marry to get the votes to pass something, and this is the most likely marriage," said Sen. John B. Breaux, a Louisiana Democrat and mainstreamer who is trying to play a broker role.

But the mainstream group, headed by Sen. John H. Chafee, a Rhode Island Republican, is still having trouble reaching a consensus within its own ranks.

"We are a microcosm illustrating why it's difficult to get a bill

passed," said Sen. Bob Kerrey, a Nebraska Democrat who moves in and out of the mainstream group.

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