Yesterday, the Republicans' gambit to derail the vote on the reconciliation fixes was thrown out by the Senate parliamentarian. That's not the end of their options, but it means they're left trying to slow the bill down rather than stop it altogether.
The budget reconciliation process limits debate to 20 hours, which means you can't filibuster. But it doesn't limit the number of amendments you can propose. So that's where Republicans are concentrating their efforts: As of this writing, the prescribed 20 hours of debate leading up to those amendments is ongoing, and Democrats have decided to give up their remaining seven hours to speed the process along. When that ends, the GOP has at least 32 amendments waiting, and they could introduce hundreds, or even thousands, more. The expectation is that the Senate should get to the amendments tonight (at least barring another Republican attempt to make everyone go home at 2 p.m.). At that point vote-a-rama commences.
Vote-a-rama is what happens when the Senate has a ton of amendments to deal with and not a lot of time to deal with them. Each amendments gets a minute of debate on both sides and then a 10-minute vote. They go till the amendments are finished. In this case, they're likely to go well into the night.
Republicans could try to stretch this out by proposing 600 more amendments. But someone would have to write those amendments. They would all have to be germane to the bill and friendly to the deficit. And Democrats can just keep knocking them back. The Republican strategy, however, appears to have moved from delay to embarrassment. Because Senate Democrats don't want to change the reconciliation bill and send it back to the House for another vote, they want to reject all Republican amendments. So Republicans are proposing amendments that will be embarrassing for them to reject. This strategy has reached its logical apotheosis in Sen. Tom Coburn's amendment "prohibiting coverage of Viagra for child molesters and rapists."
But embarrassment is temporary. Delay, particularly in the Senate, can be forever. So why have Republicans apparently moved away from the endless-amendments strategy?
The answer is that Obama already signed the Senate bill and Democrats already celebrated. When it seemed that the Senate bill wouldn't pass until reconciliation finished, there was energy on the Republican side to do everything possible to kill or slow reconciliation. Now that the Senate bill is finished and the Democrats are celebrating and the cameras are slowly flickering off? Well, sitting around voting on 632 amendments is no more fun for the Republicans than the Democrats, and they have families they want to see and fundraisers they need to attend. Obstruction would be no more fun for them than for the Democrats, and it might make them look petulant in the eyes of voters who want Congress to just move on from health care already.
Photo credit: Melina Mara/The Washington Post.
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