GOP ‘Temper Tantrum’ Brings Senate Committees To Halt

On one end of Pennsylvania Ave., jubilant Democrats packed the East Room of the White House to watch President Obama sign long-hoped-for healthcare reform into law. At the other, seething Republicans let their anger over the achievement boil over and bring their campaign of obstruction to an even higher level as they used Senate rules to bring work in the chamber’s committees to a standstill.

That’s what happened Tuesday along what is known as “America’s Main Street,” as Republican after Republican also issued statements denouncing the new reform law in dire terms.

“Senator McCain’s promised obstruction comes to reality just a day later,” says Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), referring to former Republican presidential nominee John McCain’s Monday declaration that “there would be no cooperation for the rest of the year” from members of the GOP. “‘The Party of No’ wouldn’t even agree to let Senate committees meet today. Ironically, as they make false claims about transparency regarding health reform, they’re shutting down a committee hearing today on transparency in government.”

The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee had scheduled a meeting featuring government officials and others to discuss ways to increase transparency and accountability in the federal government.

“The bottom line is that as millions of Americans are learning about the immediate benefits of health reform, Republicans are throwing a temper tantrum and grinding important Senate business to a halt,” Manley adds.

GOP senators also were looking for ways to derail, or at least slow down, the last remaining piece of impending healthcare reform business: a package of “corrections” to the original legislation demanded by House Democrats that is under consideration by the Senate under reconciliation rules which prevent the bill from being blocked by a certain Republican filibuster. GOP senators have long railed against the potential use of reconciliation for healthcare. Republicans most recently used reconciliation in the last decade to pass the big tax cuts advanced by President George W. Bush.

All Republicans in the House and Senate voted against the new healthcare law.

Senate Democrats finally turned to reconciliation to complete their work on the legislation after the surprise Jan. 19 victory of Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown, whose election gave the GOP a critical 41st vote that would sustain a Republican filibuster. Bills considered under reconciliation cannot be filibustered, and require just a simple 51-vote majority to be approved.

Like his GOP colleagues, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah continued to attack the new reform law, which more strictly regulates the market behavior of private insurance companies and is designed to eventually provide coverage to 32 million Americans who lack health insurance. A former Judiciary Committee chairman, Hatch, though also explicitly endorsed an effort by the attorney general of his home state to sue the federal government in an attempt to block a provision in the law that requires every American to buy health insurance.

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff announced Monday that Utah will join other states in challenging the constitutionality of the health care. In all, more than 30 states are either mounting such a challenge, or considering one.

“The Constitution empowers Congress to regulate interstate commerce, but not to tell Americans what they can buy. And this is just one of the constitutionally suspect provisions in the legislation,” Hatch says. “So I commend Mark Shurtleff’s and other state attorney generals’ plan to challenge this unconstitutional Washington mandate that encroaches on states’ rights and Utahns’ personal liberty, and I will do all I can to assist them in their efforts.”

Although a staunch conservative, Hatch often has worked in a bipartisan way, particularly with the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) on healthcare matters.Indeed, Hatch last summer delivered a touching public eulogy for his friend Kennedy, for whom healthcare reform was a legislative dream for which he had long worked.

The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.

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