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Furious That Coburn's Stunt Failed, GOP Cries Foul

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Yesterday, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) demanded that a single-payer health care amendment introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) be read out loud on the Senate floor. The clerks read for over two hours before Sanders withdrew the 700-plus page amendment, condemning the GOP's transparent obstruction.

But instead of declaring victory, Senate Republicans now claim to be outraged that Sanders withdrew his proposal -- an especially odd response considering the Republican demonization of government-run health care.

Coburn, for example, went on Sean Hannity's radio show and claimed that the parliamentarian broke the rules of the Senate by allowing the withdrawal of the amendment. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) issued a statement to the same effect, griping that "the majority somehow convinced the parliamentarian to break with the long standing precedent" of the chamber.

Both senators cite a section of the Senate rules which says:

[I]nterruptions of the reading of an amendment that has been proposed are not in order, even for the purpose of proposing a substitute amendment to a committee amendment which is being read. When an amendment is offered the regular order is its reading, and unanimous consent is required to call off the reading.

However, the rules also state:

Any motion, amendment, or resolution may be withdrawn or modified by the mover at any time before a decision, amendment, or ordering of the yeas and nays, except a motion to reconsider, which shall not be withdrawn without leave.

So, while the rules dictate that the reading may not be interrupted in order to propose a substitute amendment, they also clearly indicate that an amendment can be withdrawn "at any time." At worst, the esoteric Senate rules are possibly contradictory, which isn't very difficult to imagine. But it does seem that Sanders had every right to withdraw his proposal.

Also, it should be noted that the outrage at the parliamentarian's decision is completely disingenuous. After all, it was the Republicans who fired not one, but two parliamentarians who challenged their use of reconciliation -- a procedure, incidentally, to which they are now fanatically opposed.

But most significant is the fact that Senate Republicans would actually have preferred for the clerks to spend 14 hours reading the bill, wasting everyone's time and, more importantly, jeopardizing troop funding in the process.

As Steve Benen wrote, "There was a point not too long ago -- I believe it's referred to as 'when Republicans were in the majority' -- that playing procedural games that threaten troop funding during two wars was considered about the most loathsome thing a lawmaker could do. Coburn doesn't seem to care. Killing health care is the priority."

Crossposted at Media Matters Action Network