Vote-A-Rama! A Tick Tock On The Senate’s Final Health Care Process

March 23, 2010 7:04 a.m.

Shortly after President Obama signs health care reform into law today, the Senate will take up a separate health care reconciliation bill, to make several House-approved changes to the bill. The major goals of that package are to scale back the so-called Cadillac tax, bolster the subsidies the government will provide to insurance consumers, close the Medicare prescription drug donut hole, and undo controversial deals like the “Cornhusker Kickback.”

Most legislation can be filibustered at several different choke points in the Senate, but reconciliation is different. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid can expedite it to the floor, and bring it to a final vote without needing to round up 60 votes to overcome GOP obstruction. With that in mind, here’s what to expect for the rest of the week.After the Senate convenes this morning, Reid will invoke Senate Rule 14, which allows him to expedite bringing the bill to the floor. That will touch off a series of procedural steps, at the end of which the Senate will be debating the bill itself.

That debate is limited to 20 hours. During that time, Republicans will attack the bill on the floor, Democrats will defend it, and the Senate will likely take several votes–both on amendments to the bill, and on points of order, if Republicans challenge any of the bill’s provisions.

After the 20 hours, though, there’s still work to be done.

The Senate will still have to clear every amendment on the table before taking a final vote on the reconciliation. That happens in what’s known as vote-a-rama: vote upon vote upon vote with no intervening debate. At the most, Senators will get two minutes to explain what their amendments do, and then hope against hope that they have 51 votes to pass them. There are other dilatory tactics the Republicans can use–amendments can be read aloud, and they can flood the zone with irrelevant amendments just to eat up time. But the Senate chair can circumvent delay tactics, if he determines that they’re purely dilatory.

Once all the amendments are cleared, there’s a final vote–at 51-member threshold for passage. If the bill hasn’t changed one iota–and that would be a major accomplishment–then it’s done. Just like the big health care bill, it goes to the President to be signed. That’s what Senate leaders hope happens. If any amendments pass, though, or if any Republican objections are sustained, it has to go back to the House for another vote.

Vote-a-rama should kick off Thursday, and will last…an undetermined amount of time–and that means, once again, members and staff are prepared to be in town this weekend.

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