US President Barack Obama's Republican foes, angry over his historic health overhaul, derailed Senate hearings Wednesday on Afghan police training and North Korea's nuclear drive.
Democrats denounced the maneuver, with Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin declaring: "Our national security should not be held hostage to Republican pique over health care."
Republicans, waging a parliamentary guerrilla war against a package of House-passed fixes to the health law, blocked a routine waiver of an arcane Senate rule forbidding committee meetings after 2:00 pm.
The maneuver forced key panels to scrap plans to examine embattled efforts to train Afghan police and to question top military commanders charged with US forces in Asia, the combined US-UN force in South Korea, and cybersecurity.
"Lives are at stake here. American lives and Afghan lives," said Levin, who would have led the hearing on US national security in Asia. "It's unconscionable."
"Stopping these hearings does nothing for his country," said Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, who had been set to chair the Afghan hearing. "You just want to throw up your hands."
Defiant Republicans rolled their eyes, with one leadership aide asking "Do they really believe that a hearing is the difference between life and death? Seriously?"
Levin told reporters he was working with the Pentagon to reschedule his hearing and bemoaned that the setback had taken key US military commanders thousands of kilometers (miles) away from the forces they lead.
Levin's committee had been set to question the head of US forces in the Pacific, Admiral Robert Willard, and General Kevin Chilton, the head of the US Strategic Command that oversees US missile defense and nuclear deterrence.
The Michigan lawmaker said he had hoped to question them about "pressing national security topics such as North Korea?s nuclear program, Chinese military capability and the threat of cyber-warfare."
Earlier, Levin had implored his colleagues on the floor of the Senate to let the hearing occur, noting that the top Republican on the panel, Senator John McCain, supported his request.
"We have three commanders scheduled to testify this afternoon. They've been scheduled for a long time. They've come a long, long distance. One of them has come from Korea. One of them has come from Hawaii," said Levin.
Republicans objected, and under Senate rules even one senator can block such a waiver. Earlier, they had granted waivers to two Senate panels.
Democrats denounced the Republican tactic, with a spokesman for Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid accusing the minority of acting in "retaliation" for losing the fight over Obama's historic health care plan.
"These political games and obstruction have to stop -- the American people expect and deserve better," said the spokesman, Jim Manley.
The Republican maneuver also disrupted a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on the estimated 100,000 US veterans who are homeless on any given night, said that panel's chairman, Democratic Senator Daniel Akaka.
Source: AFP American Edition