Democrats might get to use reconciliation to push Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief/stimulus bill, but it comes with a cost. The same parliamentary procedure that allows the majority to get around the filibuster also allows the minority almost unlimited opportunities to propose amendments, which must receive a floor vote. The process colloquially known as “vote-a-rama” usually takes hours and allows the minority to impose a steep price in terms of taking potentially embarrassing votes, as Politico explained this morning:
The procedural trick that shrinks the vote hurdle from 60 to 51 is often described as “a powerful budget tool.” But reconciliation is also painful to wield. The first agonizing step: enduring a barrage of amendments from Republicans, who have promised to inflict maximal political pain on Democrats during an unbridled evening of “vote-a-rama” on Thursday. …
Republicans have teed up hundreds of amendments, including to preserve former President Donald Trump’s border wall, reverse Biden’s action to nix the Keystone XL pipeline and create “deficit-neutral reserve funds” on everything from supporting resources for police to prohibiting “sex-selective abortion.”
That public hazing is Senate tradition, the price the majority party pays to approve a budget resolution — an essential first move in bypassing the filibuster and passing major policy changes with a simple majority, the way Democrats did to enact Obamacare and Republicans did to achieve the 2017 tax cuts. This time the tough votes and potential all-nighter are the dreaded down payment on another giant legislative dream: the new president’s $1.9 trillion relief package.
To say that the GOP is licking its chops at the prospect might be to engage in understatement. Mitch McConnell’s office sent out this release a few minutes ago highlighting the opening round of amendments, and it’s going to get pretty uncomfortable across the aisle. One amendment takes a direct swipe at Andrew Cuomo and his cover-up of nursing-home deaths, while another takes aim at teachers unions who got ahead of the line for vaccinations and still refuse to show up for work. Plus, McConnell plans to force Senate Democrats to vote for an explicit authorization to send stimulus checks to illegal immigrants:
- Sen. Young/Sen. Cotton: Prohibit stimulus checks for illegal immigrants
- Sen. Tim Scott/Sen. Barrasso/Sen. Lankford: Reduce funding to states that have an active investigation into nursing homes for underreported deaths
- Sen. Rubio/Sen. Tim Scott/Sen. Lankford: No tax increases on small businesses during a federal declared public health emergency
- Sen. Blunt/ Sen. Tim Scott: No COVID funds for schools that do not reopen after teachers are vaccinated
- Sen. Thune: Relieve mobile and remote workers of unfair tax burdens caused by the COVID-19 pandemic
Leader McConnell remarks this morning: “We’re going to put Senators on the record…We’ll see how our colleagues vote on these basic, commonsense steps. We’ll see what this resolution looks like on the other side — and what signals Democrats send the American people along the way.”
A note appended to this from McConnell’s office warns that more amendments are coming, and to “stay tuned for updates.” One amendment that will almost certainly come would target the minimum-wage hike included in the bill. In fact, it seems a bit odd that it’s not one of the first out of the chute, but McConnell may be waiting for the Senate parliamentarian to rule on that provision. There is a good chance that she will rule it out of order, which would then require Schumer to hold a vote for an override of the decision with Kamala Harris presiding. Joe Manchin has already declared his opposition to this provision, at least in scope, which means McConnell may not need an amendment at all.
The vote-a-rama might begin as early as this afternoon. Senate Democrats are already trying to tell people not to watch the process and to ignore the activity. “Do anything to not watch vote-a-rama,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) said on the floor yesterday. That may become a mantra for Senate Democrats over the next two years, but you can bet McConnell will be taking receipts. And if Senate Democrats really don’t want to take these tough votes, maybe they can pare down the bill to keep it focused on COVID-19 relief rather than hobby-horse agenda items like a minimum wage hike that will kill jobs rather than boost the economy. There’s still time to make that decision. Stay tuned.