WASHINGTON — SEN. Phil Gramm (R) of Texas doesn't want to use the word filibuster. But that, in essence, is how he plans to defeat the health-reform proposal of Senate majority leader George Mitchell (D) of Maine, which faced its second day of debate yesterday.
``I don't see this turning into a talkathon, even though what I've said has been reported as a filibuster threat. My office yesterday got hundreds of calls of people offering to bring me food, to bring me throat spray,'' Senator Gramm, a lead opponent of Democratic efforts to reform health care, told a Monitor breakfast yesterday.
What Gramm does see, he says, is ``probably 400 good amendments'' that would be offered to the Mitchell bill. One example he offers: to eliminate what he calls differential treatment on taxes of health insurance based on whether a worker is a union member or not.
``At some point, Mitchell has got to say, these amendments are killing me,'' Gramm says.
Either the Mitchell bill will be defeated outright, Gramm predicts, or Mitchell will have to try to halt the amendments via a cloture vote. It remains unclear if Mitchell could muster the 60 votes necessary to secure cloture, with only 56 Democrats in the Senate.
The Mitchell bill, a newer version of President Clinton's reform plan, proposes subsidies to the poor and would aim to insure 95 percent of Americans by 1997, up from the current 85 percent. In the year 2000 a commission would propose to Congress how to insure the remaining 5 percent. Gramm charges that both Mitchell's bill and the House Democratic bill would ``blow the ceiling out of the deficit'' in their sixth through their 10th years.