This was ostensibly a vote on a motion to table (kill) an amendment by Sen. Tom Coburn that would have prohibited sex offenders from receiving any government subsidies for erectile dysfunction drugs. The underlying context was that Republicans were trying to attach amendments to the companion bill in order to kill it entirely. The amendment was intended to force Democrats to vote against a popular proposal. Since the House had already passed the companion bill, any amendments adopted by the Senate would have sent the measure back to the House for a final vote. Since Democratic leaders wanted to avoid forcing the House to vote on the companion bill a second time, they instructed their party's senators to vote against all amendments. Republicans attempted to offer amendments that were politically difficult to oppose -- such barring sex offenders from receiving government subsidies for erectile dysfunction drugs. The underlying context was that Republicans were trying to attach amendments to the companion bill in order to send it back the House, where it had passed by a narrow margin. CNN reported that Republicans had chosen to offer a slew of amendments in order to “undermine the measure,” while the Associated Press characterized the amendments as “a final drive to thwart President Barack Obama's health care remake.”
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), the sponsor of the amendment, said: "The vast majority of Americans do not want their taxpayer dollars paying for this kind of drug for those kind of people."
Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) made a motion to table the amendment and said: "…This legislation is about…providing health care for working families, for children….It deserves serious debate. The amendment offered by the Senator from Oklahoma makes a mockery of this Senate, the debate, and the American people. It is not a serious amendment. It is a crass political stunt aimed at making 30-second commercials, not public policy."
After the House and Senate both passed their respective health care reform bills, the two chambers had intended to reconcile those two bills into a final package. After the House and Senate passed that final package, it would have been sent to President Obama, who would have signed it into law. Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA), however, won a special election to replace the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) before the final health care bill could be brought up for a vote. Brown's victory gave Republicans 41 votes in the Senate, leaving Democrats with 59 members – one vote short of the 60 votes they needed to defeat a unanimous Republican filibuster against the final health care bill.
In order to pass comprehensive health care legislation without a 60-vote majority in the Senate, Democratic leaders devised a plan in which the House would pass the Senate health care bill (H.R. 3590), thereby enabling the president to sign it into law. The House would then pass a separate companion bill (H.R. 4872) to make changes to the Senate health measure under a process known as "budget reconciliation." Bills considered under budget reconciliation cannot be filibustered under Senate rules. This process allowed the House to make changes to Senate-passed health care legislation without sending the entire health bill back to the Senate, where it could have been filibustered indefinitely. The companion bill incorporated changes to the Senate health care legislation desired by House Democrats. The House passed the companion measure, and sent it to the Senate, where Democratic leaders hoped to defeat all amendments -- thereby avoiding a second vote in the House on a substantively changed bill; a vote that Democrats might have lost given the already tight margin when it was voted on the previous week.
The Senate tabled (killed) the Coburn amendment by a vote of 57-42. 57 Democrats voted "yea." All 40 Republicans present and 2 Democrats voted "nay." As a result, the Senate rejected an amendment Democratic leaders feared could have torpedoed the entire companion health care bill and would have prohibited sex offenders from receiving any government subsidies for erectile dysfunction drugs.