WASHINGTON (AP) — The sun rose Thursday on a House committee's marathon debate of the Republican health care bill as one lawmaker made a novel offer to mercifully end the session — the promise of food.
"It's dawn," said Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas. If the Democrats will let the Republicans reject all of their amendments at once, "we could end this and I will buy Waffle House for everybody on the committee."
Lawmakers laughed, but the effort fell flat among Democrats who were determined to use all of their limited power to offer as many amendments as possible. Republicans did the same eight years ago as Democrats pushed ahead on the Affordable Care Act, with at least one committee meeting lasting 21 hours.
None of it mattered in the end. Democratic amendments were rejected, their arguments rebuffed.
After more than 27 hours, the House Energy and Commerce Committee backed its portion of the GOP health package, with all Republicans in favor and all Democrats opposed.
For people outside Washington, it might seem silly for a congressional committee to meet for more than 27 hours to debate and pass a bill, regardless of how important the legislation is. (It seems silly to some people inside Washington, too.)
But this is how contentious legislation winds its way through Congress. And sometimes sleep-deprived lawmakers get testy.
When Democrats tried to use an amendment to show that Republicans weren't sufficiently supporting health care for veterans, some Republicans who are veterans took offense.
"Twenty-four hours and it's showing," said Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif. "Let's just take a deep breath and be respectful of each other."
As the Energy and Commerce committee meeting passed the 24-hour mark, the pressed suits and coiffed hair gave way to rumples and wrinkles. Lawmakers took several breaks in private rooms. But they couldn't stray far from the committee or they risked missing a vote. The smell of coffee wafted through the committee room. Empty water bottles lined the tables.
Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Ga., seemed the exception. His neatly pressed pink shirt was unruffled. His green tie was straight. His blueish-gray suit was neat, and his graying hair was perfectly parted. A little gray stubble on his chin was the only outward sign of the all-nighter he had pulled.
What's his secret?
"I don't know. I've been up the whole time!" Carter said.
Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., had his own strategy.
"I cheated," Hudson said. "I snuck down to the gym at five and took a shower and put on a clean shirt."
At one point, committee Chairman Greg Walden called on Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., to speak against a Democratic amendment. He didn't respond so Walden called on him again, referring to him as "the gentleman from New York."
Collins perked up and said, "Let's see Mr. Chairman, I think I was asleep."
If so, he wasn't the only one in the room who nodded off from time to time.
After it was all over, Walden was giddy.
"I've been up since 5:30, I think it was yesterday morning," said the Oregon Republican. "I'm still standing. I don't have a clue what I'm saying but, no — I'm just kidding."
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