The U.S. Senate staggered toward the healthcare finish line on Wednesday, as Republicans used new tactics to delay debate and a Democratic holdout remained uncommitted after meeting President Barack Obama.
With Democrats racing the clock to finish before Christmas, the slow-moving Senate healthcare debate ground to a complete halt for several hours as Republicans forced the reading of a 767-page amendment.
Republican Senator Tom Coburn invoked his right to require an amendment by independent Senator Bernie Sanders be read aloud by a Senate clerk -- a task that dragged on for more than three hours before Sanders pulled his amendment.
It's an annual ordeal for many seniors living on a budget. Medicare's coverage gap for prescription drugs — $3,610 next year — has steadily gotten bigger since the benefit's inception. But if Democrats have their way on health care overhaul, the dreaded "doughnut hole" will shrink by $500 right away and go away altogether by 2019.
With the elderly worried that Medicare cuts in the health care bill will put the quality of their own care in jeopardy, Democrats belatedly are scrambling to convince them otherwise. Lawmakers are eager to make amends with a pivotal political constituency ahead of next year's midterm elections.
In a headlong rush to leave town for the year, the House is trying to clear its plate of legislation to finance the military, help the jobless and permit the government to run up more debt.
Democratic leaders also are touting a new $154 billion measure combining help for state and local governments and the unemployed with nearly $50 billion in spending on highways, housing and school repair as part of a year-end plan to create jobs. That measure was scheduled for a vote along with the other issues Wednesday, though the Senate won't act this year.
Much of Wednesday's action would simply punt a host of difficult issues into next year by extending for just two months expiring funding for highway and other infrastructure projects.
History may be calling but time's running out to act by Christmas, so Senate Democrats are coming to terms with the idea they won't get everything they want from health care overhaul.
For the second time in less than two weeks, President Barack Obama cajoled restive Democrats on Tuesday, urging them not to lose perspective amid intense intraparty battles over government's role and reach in health care. The public plan liberals hoped for appeared dead in the Senate, as did a Medicare buy-in scheme offered as a fallback.
Democratic senators were to meet with President Barack Obama at the White House Tuesday to discuss health care reform, amid reports of new compromise likely to infuriate liberal lawmakers.
The Senate has been struggling to pass its own version of a health care overhaul amid tough divides within the Democratic caucus on the bill's language.
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and several senior Democratic senators told reporters Monday evening that they were closer than ever to passing legislation.
Their renewed optimism came amid reports that a compromise designed to compensate for doing away with a government-backed "public option" health plan had been dropped after opposition from Independent Senator Joseph Lieberman.
The Senate on Sunday passed a $1.1 trillion spending bill with increased budgets for vast areas of the federal government, including health, education, law enforcement and veterans' programs.
The more-than-1,000-page package, one of the last essential chores of Congress this year, passed 57-35 and now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.
The weekend action underlined the legislative crush faced by Congress as it tries to wind up the year. After the vote, the Senate immediately returned to the debate on health care legislation that has consumed its time and energy for weeks. Senate Democrats hope to reach a consensus in the coming days on Obama's chief domestic priority.
Senate Democrats who thought they had found a workable compromise on health care reform learned otherwise from independent Sen. Joe Lieberman over the weekend.Read More
The Connecticut senator, whose vote is critical to the bill's prospects, threatened Sunday to join Republicans in opposing health care legislation if it permits uninsured individuals as young to 55 to purchase Medicare coverage.
Lieberman expressed his opposition twice Sunday: first in an interview with CBS, and more strongly later, according to Democratic officials, in a private meeting with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
President Barack Obama on Saturday applauded House passage of an ambitious restructuring of federal financial regulations designed to correct failures that led to the economic meltdown.
He called for quick action by the Senate "because we should never again find ourselves in the position in which our only choices are bailing out banks or letting our economy collapse."
The bill would grant the government new powers to split up companies that threaten the economy, create a new agency to oversee consumer banking transactions and shine a light into shadow financial markets that have escaped federal oversight.
A loophole in the Senate health care bill would let insurers place annual dollar limits on medical care for people struggling with costly illnesses such as cancer, prompting a rebuke from patient advocates.
The legislation that originally passed the Senate health committee last summer would have banned such limits, but a tweak to that provision weakened it in the bill now moving toward a Senate vote.
As currently written, the Senate Democratic health care bill would permit insurance companies to place annual limits on the dollar value of medical care, as long as those limits are not "unreasonable." The bill does not define what level of limits would be allowable, delegating that task to administration officials.
House Democrats head into the final stretch on a long-awaited Wall Street regulation bill with two crucial and contentious votes looming before they can declare victory on one of President Barack Obama's legislative priorities.
The sweeping regulatory overhaul aims to address the myriad conditions that led to last year's financial crisis.
Test votes during two days of debate indicate that Democratic support for the underlying legislation will hold in final passage. Prodded by moderates, however, nearly half the Democrats teamed up with Republicans late Thursday to loosen restrictions on derivatives and reject tougher regulations.