Rare Weekend Health Care Senate Debate Bogs Down

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Senate, convening in a rare weekend session to continue its debate on health care reform, quickly became mired in partisan bickering Saturday and adjourned after about seven hours of nonstop talk, but no action.

Frustrated Democrats accused Republicans of engaging in a poorly disguised filibuster designed to block floor action, while Republicans accused Democrats of trying to rush through a complex piece of legislation without allowing enough time for members to study it.

The partisan wrangling--and the passing of another day with no tangible progress on health care--was another ominous sign for President Clinton's top domestic priority, particularly in light of the House's decision Thursday to put off debate on the issue indefinitely.

The Senate was to have begun a monthlong summer vacation on Saturday, but it now appears it could stay in session for several weeks. Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Me.) has said the Senate will continue meeting six days a week until it completes action on health care reform.

The ostensible point of debate Saturday was a two-page amendment by Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) that would require private health plans to offer perinatal care and childhood immunizations by January, well before the effective date of other reform provisions.

But as one Republican after another took to the floor to criticize the Mitchell bill, a frustrated Dodd called a press conference to accuse the Republicans of engaging in "a good old-fashioned filibuster."

Mitchell himself lamented on the Senate floor: "We are in a situation where debate will continue with no assurance, as of today, as to whether votes will be permitted."

Senate Republican leader Bob Dole of Kansas denied that his forces were engaging in a filibuster, a parliamentary tactic that allows senators to engage in nonstop debate unless a three-fifths majority votes to end it. Even so, Dole's remarks all but confirmed that the Republicans were indeed filibustering.

"We think we have the right to make opening statements. This is a very important bill," Dole said.

Last week, the House Democratic leadership--faced with insufficient support for its health care reform plan--put off debate on the measure indefinitely.

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