Without a single vote yet on healthcare, the Senate is already tied in knots, with members squabbling over amendments.

Dems contend that Republicans are obstructing, as they have insisted on 3 days of debate on a McCain amendment that nixes the nearly $500 billion in Medicare cuts Dems have made to help pay for healthcare reform.

Republicans say Reid can move to “table”, or kill, the McCain amendment at any time (which is true -- he can call this vote right now, if he wants to -- but aides say no decision has yet been made), that they are not obstructing. A McConnell spokesman said, “We’re not going to insist on 3 days for every amendment. Some will take a short amount of time, others longer.”

And if you’d like to be dragged into the sausage-making process even more, READ ON ---

A Reid spokesman tells Fox, “They (GOPers) are insisting on a side-by-side to the Mikulski amendment, and at the same time they are objecting to let us have a side-by-side on the McCain amendment.”

This garbled Senate-speak just means: the GOP wants to have an alternative amendment to Maryland Dem Sen Barbara Mikulski’s mammogram amendment (one by Sen Lisa Murkowski, R-AK that prohibits the bill from covering abortion as “preventive care” – ie, abortions do NOT equal mammograms; it also says the govt CANNOT use the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force to deny any coverage), BUT they don’t want Dems to have an alternate to the McCain Medicare amendment.

Sen. Mike Bennet, D-CO, has authored the alternative, and it tacitly ackowledges the explosive nature of making any changes to the holy grail of healthcare for seniors that is Medicare.  Like Social Security, it's become a "third rail" on the Hill these days.

It says nothing in the bill shall result in a reduction of “guaranteed benefits” for Medicare beneficiaries (ie, Medicare Advantage customers are out); and any savings will be used to reduce the Medicare trust fund debt & increase benefits for seniors.

If nothing else --- this makes it crystal clear that healthcare reform is off to a lackluster start and will certainly have a darn difficult time getting out of the Senate by year’s end, EVEN IF members work thru Christmas, as has been threatened.