A Merged Senate Bill by Monday?November 10, 2009 - by Donny Shaw
Democratic leaders in the Senate are now planning on having a health care bill on the Senate floor by next Monday, much sooner than anyone had been expecting.
As it stands, the public has access to the health care bills as passed by the Senate Finance Committee (S. 1796) and the Senate HELP Committee (S. 1679), but not to the merged version that will be brought to the floor for debate and votes. The merged version does in fact exist, however, and it’s currently being examined by the Congressional Budget Office. The CBO is expected to report their findings by the end of this week or Monday of next week. If their findings are to Senate Dems’ likings, the bill will be made available to the public on Monday.
What does this mean for the bill’s transparency? Basically, it means that if all goes according to the Senate Democratic leadership’s schedule, the first vote on the bill could occur just hours after the text and details of it are made available to the public. Senate Republicans and Democrats outside of the leadership would likely not have much more time than the rest of us to read the bill before they vote.
The reason, I assume, that the Senate feels they can justify this pace is that the vote that would be taking on Monday would not technically be a vote on the bill. It wouldn’t even be a vote on beginning the debate of the bill. It would be on a motion to invoke cloture on a motion to proceed to the debate. In other words, it would be a vote to overcome a Republican filibuster of even considering debating the bill. If that motion is approved — it would take 60 votes — the Senate would proceed to 30 clock hours of debating whether or not to begin the actual debate of the bill. Once those 30 hours are up, the Senate would then take another vote, requiring a simple majority of 51 votes, to begin the official debate. All of this would likely take until Thursday to pass. By that point, if the bill is in fact made public on Monday, it will have been officially available online for 72 hours before debate begins, just like it was in the House.
In reality, however, the vote on the motion to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed is not just procedural. It often has substantial implications. If some Democrat disliked the bill so much that they didn’t even want it debated on the floor, they could join with the Republicans on the motion and block it. Right now, that’s not expected to happen, but neither is it expected to be a pleasant, bipartisan event. It’s a little bit like “agreeing to the rule” in the House, which was a partisan vote that was held captive by conservative Democrats to force a vote on changing abortion language in the bill. Sen. Ben Nelson [D, NE] is already threatening to vote against the motion to proceed if it doesn’t contain language similar to the abortion funding amendment the House added to their bill.
We’ll be working to get you the full text of the merged Senate bill online as soon as possible. For now, here’s an overview of some of the big differences between the Finance Committee and HELP Committee bills. These are some of the things we’ll be looking at as soon as the merged bill is available to see what the Dem leadership has decided. With the passage of the Stupak abortion amendment in the House this past weekend, we’ll also be looking for what changes, if any, Senate Democrats make to their bills’ abortion language. Subscribe to this blog’s RSS feed for updates.
As for the broader health care timeline in the Senate, we’re probably looking at at least three weeks of debate and potentially a final vote before Christmas. Passage of the bill still seems shaky, and you can be sure that anything that comes out of the Senate will look significantly different from the bill that was passed by the House last Saturday.
Top Senate Democrats plan to start debate on a healthcare overhaul bill next week, but they said today a key vote on a motion to proceed to the bill might not occur until after Thanksgiving and that final passage might not come this year.
“Boy, that would be terrific, if we could get a motion to proceed” before the holiday, Durbin said.
Durbin said Reid is working to assure that 60 senators commit to initially vote to cut off a GOP filibuster on the motion to proceed, and Democrats will not move if they are not sure of the votes. Democrats remain focused on securing commitments to move to the bill, betting that changes on the floor can win over holdouts, he said.
“What we are aiming for is for people to … understand what’s in the bill and commit to moving forward with the debate,” Durbin said. “That is what the motion to proceed is all about. No final commitment has been made on passage, obviously, until people have a chance to review it carefully. And clearly we’re going to make some changes.”