Republicans ratchet up concern they’ll be stiff-armed in health-reform debate

After three weeks of stalling over controversial amendments to legislation extending unemployment benefits, Senate GOP leaders are floating a new message as they criticize the way Democrats have managed the process: they’re trying to paint the unemployment insurance debate as a kind of forewarning of what might happen as the Senate moves to health reform legislation later in the month.

Last Thursday, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) argued that Republicans have been “extraordinarily reasonable” in insisting on a handful of amendments, some unrelated to the underlying unemployment legislation. The Senate minority leader cautioned that Americans will revolt if Democrats similarly refuse such amendments during the coming health reform debate.

I hope this is not the way the majority leader is planning on handling the health care debate because the American people will storm the Capitol if they think the majority is going to dictate to the minority what amendments will be offered on a bill as significant as restructuring one-sixth of the economy.

That theme is becoming popular in the conservative echo chamber. Yesterday, the Heritage Foundation made a similar link between the amendment process surrounding the unemployment and health reform bills.

An extension of unemployment insurance benefits will occupy the Senate for most of the week, again. Not only is this the wrong way to address the lack of jobs, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has numerous amendments, including those that may actually spur job creation. Shutting down the amendment process does not bode well for the upcoming health care debate.

Of course, Democrats haven’t shut down the amendment process. They’ve just refused to consider controversial provisions that have nothing to do with the underlying bill. The warning here seems to be that we might have to endure all of this once more, as the health reform debate is similarly stalled by amendments related to ACORN, illegal immigrants and the Wall Street bailout.

A procedural vote on the Senate bill is scheduled today 5:30 p.m. EST. If the proposal hops that hurdle, it clears the way for final passage later in the week.

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Mike Lillis

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