WASHINGTON — With a few simple words — "I would have to object" — Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina derailed a Senate Armed Services hearing today in which generals had traveled from Korea and Hawaii to testify about the Pentagon's needs for the next year.
Burr, joining his GOP colleagues' outrage at the new health reform law, used an obscure Senate rule to prevent the Armed Services committee from meeting this afternoon even though he said he personally wanted the hearing to occur.
Republicans are angry over the signing Tuesday of the health reform law that President Barack Obama and Democrats have been working toward for the past year.
They have pledged to "repeal and replace" the law, as their slogan goes, and GOP House members are calling on state attorneys general to file lawsuits challenging the law's constitutionality.
In the meantime, Republicans are using parliamentary tactics to slow the Senate's workings, and Burr's action put him in the midst of the dust-up. He is running for re-election and has said he'll make repealing the health overhaul a central tenet of his platform.
Wednesday was the second day Republican senators have blocked committees from conducting afternoon hearings.
Senate rules prohibit committees from meeting after 2 p.m. unless there is unanimous consent. Such consent usually occurs with no problem, but around lunchtime today, Burr stepped in.
U.S. Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the committee's chairman, wanted to carry on with the 2:30 p.m. Armed Services hearing.
Speaking on the Senate floor, Levin said that both he and U.S. Sen. John McCain, the committee's top Republican, wanted to go forward with the meeting.
The hearing would allow senators to hear testimony on the fiscal year 2011 Defense Authorization Bill from three military leaders: Navy Adm. Robert Willard, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii; Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command; and Army Gen. Walter Sharpe, commander of the U.S. forces in Korea.
"They've been scheduled a long time," Levin said. "They have come a long, long distance."
Burr, already on the Senate floor for an unrelated health care debate, came forward.
"As a member of the committee, and I side myself with the chairman and the ranking member, that I have no personal objection to continuing," Burr announced.
"There is objection on our side of the aisle. Therefore, I would have to object."
Burr's objection was criticized by the Democratic National Committee.
"Sen. Burr has taken his obstructionism so far that he's willing to put it before our national security," said DNC spokeswoman Joanne Peters.
U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, a Greensboro Democrat, also sits on the Armed Services committee and was sitting in the speaker's chair in the Senate chamber when Burr filed his objection. In her role in the chair, she acknowledged his objection.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, offered a spirited speech in response to GOP tactics.
"I don't get it," she said. "We're sent here to work Disagree with us. Debate. Vote no. But let us work. I implore you, let us work."
N.C. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, who is running for the Democratic nomination to oppose Burr, also had sharp words.
"Senator Burr and his Republican colleagues need to grow up," Marshall said in a statement. "The health care vote is over, they lost and it's time to move on to other business."