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This Week in Congress – Seriously, though, read this one.

December 21st, 2009, 06:12 pm admin Leave a comment Go to comments

The House is not in voting session this week.

In the Senate, courtesy of the Office of the Majority Leader:

Convenes: 12:01am

Resume consideration of H.R.3590, Health Care Reform.


1:00am cloture vote on Reid-Baucus-Dodd-Harkin amendment #3276: .

Well, that’s all that’s on the schedule. But we already know a bit more about what’s going to happen this week, because we know that there remains a checklist of procedural moves necessary to getting to that last vote on passage.

The first is that cloture vote on the manager’s amendment, formally the Reid-Baucus-Dodd-Harkin amendment (#3276), held at 1 o’clock this morning — already on the books by the time you read this.

Why was it held at one in the morning? Because they’re racing the clock against Christmas, and 1 a.m. was the very soonest the rules permitted holding that vote. Cloture procedure is governed by Senate Rule XXII, which tells us that  cloture motions ripen (that is, are eligible to come to a vote) “one hour after the Senate meets on the following calendar day but one” — meaning you start on the day the motion is filed, then wait for a full day after that day to pass, and then you can vote an hour after the Senate next convenes.

The manager’s amendment was unveiled on Saturday, and a cloture motion on it was immediately filed. One full calendar day following the day of filing has to pass (that was Sunday), and then you can vote one hour after the Senate convenes on the day after that, which is today. And the very soonest you can convene on Monday would of course be 12:01 a.m., meaning the soonest you could have your vote would be 1:00 a.m. And that’s just what they’re doing.

But Rule XXII tells us more:

After no more than thirty hours of consideration of the measure, motion, or other matter on which cloture has been invoked, the Senate shall proceed, without any further debate on any question, to vote on the final disposition thereof….

That means that even after they invoke cloture on the manager’s amendment, there can be up to 30 more hours of  ”debate” on it, meaning that if it’s all used (as is expected), the vote on actually adopting the amendment can’t take place until 7:00 a.m. on Tuesday, December 22.

With the adoption of the manager’s amendment, all of the changes made to the Senate’s version of the bill in order to win the support of the 60 Senators necessary to clear these cloture hurdles will have been agreed to. But even once that’s done, the amendments are sort of floating in space. They still need to be plugged into a House-originated bill.

Why? Remember Art. I, Sec. 7 of the Constitution:

All bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.

That means the Senate has to resort to one of its favorite tricks in order to chime in with its own original proposals for revenue measures. That is, they can write the provisions, but need a House-originated vehicle to move them in order to be in technical compliance with Art. I, Sec. 7. So what they usually do is take a dormant House-passed bill that’s awaiting Senate action, call it up, strip out the entire text of it, and amend it by offering their own bill as a substitute. That gives them their preferred revenue text, but puts it in a House-passed bill as an “amendment,” even though it gets rid of everything the House wrote into it. In this case, they have the actual House-passed health insurance reform bill to use as a vehicle, and amending it will give them two versions of the same bill, and thus the opportunity after passage to immediately seek a conference with the House.

In this case, the Senate will be substituting everything from their version of the bill and the manager’s amendment for the text of H.R. 3590, which started — as its title reads — as a bill “To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to modify the first-time homebuyers credit in the case of members of the Armed Forces and certain other Federal employees.” And it’ll do it with a motion to commit the bill to the Senate Finance Committee, with instructions to report back with an amendment (called the “substitute amendment”) containing the text of their bill the way they’ve amended it to date (including the manager’s amendment). In truth, with these kinds of motions to commit, the bill never leaves the floor, and the changes are made instantaneously.

But of course, that motion is subject to… the filibuster. Which means the second of the three expected cloture votes will be on the motion to commit regarding the substitute. Cloture was also filed on that on Saturday, so that vote will be “ripe” at 1 a.m. on Monday, too. But they can only vote on one thing at a time, and the manager’s amendment needs to go first. Then, once they get cloture on the manager’s amendment, they need to run the 20 hour clock. At the end of the 30 hours, they’re free to vote on the manager’s amendment and move on. And since the cloture motion on the substitute amendment has also ripened and been pending, it’s eligible to come up right after the vote on adoption of the manager’s amendment.

Once cloture is invoked on the substitute amendment, the 30 hour clock starts all over again, running out at around 1 p.m. on Wednesday, December 23, when we get to the vote on substitute amendment (that is, the motion to commit and report back the substitute text).

Next up, cloture on the entire bill, now containing all the changes made to it, and grafted onto the shell of a House bill in order to comply with the Art. 1, Sec. 7 requirements. That cloture motion is ripe at that point, having been filed on Saturday, December 19, so it can come to a vote right after adoption of the substitute amendment.

But remember, that’s still just cloture on the bill. We still have to wait yet another 30 hours after that cloture motion is adopted before we get to the vote on final passage of the bill. That takes us to about 7 p.m. on Thursday, December 24.

Got it?

  1. 1 a.m. Monday vote on cloture on the manager’s amendment
  1. 7 a.m. Tuesday vote on the manager’s amendment itself
  1. 7 a.m.-ish Tuesday vote on cloture on the substitute amendment (motion to commit)
  1. 1 p.m. Wednesday vote on the substitute amendment itself
  1. 1 p.m.-ish Wednesday vote on cloture on the bill
  1. 7 p.m. Thursday vote on passage of the bill

What happens in between? Well, for one thing, the Republicans will probably object to dispensing with the reading of each of these amendments. Which means that the reading clerks may have to read each of them aloud. They’ve already read the manager’s amendment, and they may well have to do it all over again with the substitute.

For another, there’ll be some wacky procedural maneuvering with the substitute in order to wind down a move Harry Reid employed called “filling the amendment tree” (about which you can read more here). Basically, Reid has filed a bunch of amendments that are meant to block other Senators from offering any more amendments, and those blocking amendments will have to be dispensed with along the way. No difficulties are anticipated with this maneuver, and the biggest hurdles are just making sure every one of the necessary 60 votes are in present and in place for the three key votes (#s 1, 3 and 5, above).

If nothing else, this week will be a useful demonstration of just what a giant pain in the ass filibusters and cloture voting can be, which will tell you a little something about why Senators are often willing to meet almost any demand to avoid dealing with threats of sustained delaying campaigns. When a “hold” gets put on a bill — particularly a complex one like this — you begin to see why Senators sometimes prefer just to honor the hold and let the bill lie, rather than fight their way through it. Especially when there’s a full legislative agenda stacking up behind.

Anyway, by the time you read this, vote number 1 will be over. Enjoy the rest of the show!

Oh, one other thing! There actually is one committee meeting scheduled this week: a 10 a.m. meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Christmas Eve. Well, Christmas Eve morning. I’m sure everyone’s real happy with Chairman Leahy about that one. Details on it are below the fold, though at this point, given the length of this story and the brevity of the committee schedule, that tradition is looking kind of stupid.

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