BY CHRIS CASTEEL Modified: December 17, 2009 at 6:14 am •  Published: December 17, 2009
WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn shut down Senate debate of sweeping health care legislation for nearly three hours Wednesday when he forced the reading of a lengthy amendment.

Coburn, R-Muskogee, objected to a routine request to waive the reading of an amendment, forcing Senate clerks to read the document aloud. Typically, senators are allowed to explain their amendments in lieu of having them read in their entirety.

The amendment was offered by Sen. Bernard Sanders, an independent from Vermont, and the aim was to establish a single-payer, or government-run, health care system in the United States. Under Sanders’ amendment, the nation’s Medicare program would have been extended to every U.S. citizen.

Sanders withdrew his amendment about three hours into its reading and criticized Republicans for preventing a debate and vote on it.

"That is an outrage!” he shouted. "In this moment of crisis, it is wrong to bring the United States government to a halt.”

Sanders said he knew his amendment would have failed, but he predicted that the United States would eventually adopt a single-payer system.

Sen. Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat and the assistant majority leader, said it would have taken at least 10 hours to read Sanders’ 767-page amendment if Sanders hadn’t withdrawn it.

Coburn’s move to force the reading came late Wednesday morning, after Montana Sen. Max Baucus declined to entertain Coburn’s motion to require that senators be given 72 hours to read amendments.

Sanders tried to ask Coburn why he was forcing the reading, but Coburn insisted the amendment be read.

Coburn had planned to force the reading of the entire health care bill — which is more than 2,000 pages long — when debate began three weeks ago, but other Senate Republicans persuaded him not to make that move.