WASHINGTON, D.C. — Senate leaders, eager to get in a vote on health-care reform legislation before Christmas, have broken from Senate tradition and begun enforcing time limits on speakers.
In a notable exchange on the Senate floor this afternoon, Sen. Al Franken, presiding over the chamber, objected to an extension of Sen. Joe Lieberman’s speaking time, which had expired.
Lieberman asked for a moment’s extension to finish his remarks, a request that requires unanimous consent but is almost always approved. (Video of the exchange is here.)
“In my capacity as senator from Minnesota, I object,” Franken said. Lieberman laughed off the objection, saying he didn’t take it personally, then asked for unanimous consent that his remarks be inserted in the record as read. No one objected.
“Leadership is having every presiding officer enforce the 10 min rule for every speaker on both sides. Been happening all day,” said Franken spokeswoman Jess McIntosh in an e-mailed response when asked for her reaction to the incident.
While that may be the case — Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan said as much shortly after — the speed-up angered Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, who said the enforcement of those rules “harms the comity of the Senate.”
“I’ve been around here 20-some years, first time I’ve ever seen a member denied an extra minute or two to finish his remarks,” McCain said, just following the exchange. “I must say that, I don’t know what’s happening here in this body, but I think it’s wrong.
“I’m sure that time is urgent, but I doubt it could be that urgent.”
The Senate may have to stick to a strict schedule if the goal is to get a vote by Christmas — a political target that theoretically would keep health reform legislation on track to be signed into law by President Obama’s first State of the Union address in late January or early February.
Senate Democratic staffers have said they can get to a vote on Christmas Eve, assuming their fragile 60-vote coalition sticks together, even if Republicans grind proceedings to a halt through the use of procedural delays.
Also on the Senate agenda is a Defense Department appropriations bill, expected to be voted on this weekend, and raising the national debt limit, a vote that will likely come after Christmas.
Several Democratic senators have said they’re waiting for the Congressional Budget Office to score the health care bill before deciding how to vote on it. That cost analysis is projected to come as early as Monday.
Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina told The Hill he plans to make Democratic leaders jump through every procedural hurdle he can find, and won’t yield back any time throughout the remainder of the debate.
“I think it’s our responsibility to stretch this out because every day we do we have time to tell Americans what’s in it,” DeMint said.