Bill is brought to floor

I don’t normally post on a Saturday night, but the U.S. Senate doesn’t normally take action on a nation-transforming bill on a Saturday night either. About two hours ago, by 60-39, the minimum three fifths majority that was required, the Senate voted to bring the health care bill to the floor. Blanche Lincoln folded and supported the measure, as I and every other sentient being on the planet expected. And I guess Joseph Lieberman voted for it, though his name is not mentioned in the AP article.

However, this does not appear to be the decisive disaster that I thought it would be. My understanding was that if the bill passed this vote, it meant the commencement of a limited period of debate at the end of which there would have to be a vote on the bill. In other words, I thought that the vote tonight was the equivalent of cloture, virtually assuring ultimate passage of the bill. But it appears that that’s not the case. As a brief item in today’s New York Post explained, the Democrats had to get 60 votes to bring it to the floor and begin debate, AND they will later have to get 60 votes to end debate and vote on the bill. I’ve never heard of this before. I thought that the only procedural block requiring three fifths of the Senate to be overcome was cloture, i.e., closing debate and voting.

Sometimes it seems you need a 150 IQ to understand Senate procedures, which is pretty funny, since the average IQ of the senators seems to be about 105.

Update: Do you think I’m exaggerating when I say that Senate procedure is impenetrable to anyone not possessing extremely high intelligence, or at least expert inside knowledge not available to ordinary citizens? In the New York Times article about the Senate vote, there is a link to “Interactive: Roll Call Vote.” At the top of that page is the official title of the motion that the Senate passed tonight:

Senate Vote 353—H.R.3590: On the Cloture Motion 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 for other purposes.

Internal Revenue Code? First-time homebuyers’ credit? Members of Armed Forces? What in blazes does any of that have to with the government taking control of the nation’s health insurance industry?

And here’s another question. The motion is called a cloture motion, meaning a motion to close debate. But since this motion was to open debate on the bill, how can it be a motion to close debate? The answer seems to be (tighten your seatbelt) that it was a motion to close debate on whether to open debate. That’s right. It was a motion to close debate on whether to open debate. I derive that conclusion from this sentence in the Times article:

The Republicans sought to portray the vote on Saturday—on whether to end debate on a motion to bring up the health bill—as tantamount to a vote on the bill itself, and to shake the confidence of Democrats who had wavered in recent days.

So they were having a debate on whether to debate the bill, and the cloture motion was to close the debate on whether to debate the bill. Doesn’t it then follow, since all they’ve done tonight is close debate on whether to debate the bill, that before they can actually debate the bill, they still have to have another vote, based on a regular majority not a three-fifths majority, on whether to debate it? But I haven’t heard anything about that.

Leaving that question aside, the Times is not even consistent on the main point I’ve brought out, since a photo caption in the article says:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, right, and Senator Chris Dodd after the 60-39 passage of the cloture vote on health insurance reform legislation.

But a cloture vote on the legislation means that debate on the legislation is being ended, not begun. So what the caption should have said is (I’ve added the four bolded words):

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, right, and Senator Chris Dodd after the 60-39 passage of the cloture vote on the motion to debate health insurance reform legislation.

Disclosure: I haven’t the foggiest notion whether anything I’ve said above is correct. Most importantly, I’m not sure whether there must be another cloture motion requiring approval by three fifths of the Senate before the bill can be passed. If it’s the case that there must be another cloture vote, then tonight’s vote was not the disaster that some portray it as; if it’s the case that there doesn’t have to be another cloture vote, then tonight’s vote was the final disaster, and passage of this monstrous attack on America is assured.

November 22

Larry G. writes:

My IQ is less than 150, so I can’t figure out the Senate’s machinations either. But what I do know is that they are all going home for Thanksgiving and nothing will happen until next week. That gives the public one last chance to put the fear of God and/or revolution into the corrupt hearts of these Senators. People need to surround their offices (of the Democrats and RINOs at least) and homes and let them know we will not stand for what they are doing to our country. It may be our only hope.

Paul G. writes:

I agree with you about the labyrinthine nature of the Senate rules—and I’m a political junkie with a Masters in Public Policy.

A site I’ve found very helpful with issues like health care reform has been Keith Hennessey’s site. Hennessey (besides being the namesake of a famous liquor) was an aide in the recent Bush administration, and blogs about policy and politics in a way that’s both wonky and accessible. In an earlier post about the health care vote in the Senate, he laid out the process Harry Reid must take to secure passage, including the super-majority vote to begin debate and the one to close debate (which is the crucial vote). As someone who’s studied all this for several years, I really appreciate Mr. Hennessey’s ability to make the minutia of politics and policy accessible to average folks.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 21, 2009 11:12 PM | Send

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