Health debate restarts after amendment dropped

Senators got their health-care debate back on track Wednesday after a Republican move forced a delay of the consideration of the sweeping White House-backed overhaul.

The Senate debate, already on day 15, bogged down Wednesday after Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., forced the reading of a 767-page amendment from Vermont independent Bernard Sanders that aims to set up a single-payer health-care system. Sanders later withdrew the amendment ? long before the reading of it was complete?which he acknowledged had no chance of passing.

The reading aloud of amendments is usually dispensed with; reading the whole measure would have consumed precious hours as Democrats have their eyes on passage of the whole bill before Christmas.

Senate Democrats met with President Barack Obama on Tuesday, and the president emerged “cautiously optimistic” about getting reform done soon.

But a new Washington Post-ABC News poll found that Americans are generally fearful that a revamped health-care system would bring higher costs and worse care.

Fifty-one percent of poll respondents said they oppose the proposed changes for the health-care system, while 44 percent said they support the proposals from Congress and the White House. The poll was conducted Dec. 10-13 and has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

Still, Democrats pressed ahead on Wednesday, aiming to finish the bill before the end of next week.

“We continue making progress toward making it possible for every American to afford to live a healthy life,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Wednesday morning. “We all know our current system is beyond broken, and we know the citizens of this country demand that we fix it.”

Senators on Tuesday defeated an amendment that would have allowed prescription drugs to be imported into the U.S. The measure required 60 votes for passage but garnered only 51.

Reid is now looking toward Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., to make the 60th vote. Nelson is pressing for tighter abortion restrictions in the bill.

A final vote on the Senate bill could come either Dec. 23 or 24, reports said Wednesday.

(c) 2009, Inc. Source: McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.