Photo by Robert Nunnally, Creative Commons license 2.0

The US Senate voted this morning — at freakin' 5:30 a.m. Eastern — to move forward a draft budget bill that will eventually become the Biden administration's $1.9 trillion economic stimulus and coronavirus funding package. Why so early? Because the weirdass Senate rules on passing a bill by reconciliation demanded it. As Politico explains, since the budget reconciliation process allows a majority party to pass budget legislation with a simple majority, with no chance for the minority party to filibuster, the rules require that the bill be subjected to votes on all the amendments any member of the Senate might choose to put forward. That procedure has come to be called a "vote-a-rama," and it's exactly as dignified and serious as the name implies, since none of the amendments are actually binding as the bill moves forward to its final form.

It's basically a kind of hazing, although it's also semi-serious, since it's a chance to "express legislative priorities" — or in reality, an opportunity for both parties to make senators from the other side vote on stuff that might make for a useful attack ad somewhere down the line. Yes, really, that's about all it's good for. It's all about messaging, with amendments that a former GOP budget staffer called "If I Had a Pony" amendments.

So the Senate was up all night, with Vice President Kamala Harris to break ties, until the bill was finally approved on a party-line vote, 51 to 50. Now it will be voted on by the House today, and the real work of writing the actual bill starts, in both House and Senate committees.

In a speech on the Senate floor before the vote-a-palooza got rolling, Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) called the upcoming nightmare "the worst part of the United States Senate." Schatz went on to deride the entire exercise as

a goofy 10-hour or 12-hour or 15-hour process where we stack amendments and try to set each other up, that we'll somehow trick someone into taking a bad position that can be turned into a campaign advertisement. [...] It is nonsense, and everybody should ignore it if they can. Do anything to not watch vote-a-rama.

If vote-a-rama begins to glow, seek shelter immediately. Do not taunt vote-a-rama.


As you'd expect, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (we really enjoy typing that!) took the opportunity to complain that the stimulus package is full of liberal priorities that have nothing to do with the pandemic, right before he and his colleagues demanded votes on a boatload of nonbinding amendments that have even less to do with the pandemic, like one that would have banned "sex-selective abortion." At least McConnell was open and honest — like, for him, the devious old hate-turtle — about treating the whole spectacle as an exercise in scoring partisan points:

We'll be getting senators on the record about whether taxpayers should fund checks for illegal immigrants, whether Democrats should raise taxes on small businesses in the midst of this historic crisis and whether generous federal funding should pour into school districts where the unions refuse to let schools open. [...] And this is just a small taste.

He wasn't kidding! As RollCall notes, Republicans filed some 900 amendments in advance of the all-night session, although ultimately only 45 amendments got voted on.

So what all got voted on, never to be heard of again, at least until the 2022 midterms? Let's sample a few!

  • Roy Blount (R-Missouri) wanted to withhold funding from schools that don't reopen after all the teachers are vaccinated. That failed on a party-line vote.
  • Todd Young (R-Indiana) got eight Democrats to vote for his amendment blocking stimulus checks for undocumented immigrants, although undocumented immigrants have never been eligible in the first place.
  • Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) added an amendment preventing stimmy payments to "upper-income taxpayers," and that passed 99 to 1. The amendment didn't define "high-income taxpayers," however, so again, no different from the first two stimulus bills, which only sent full payments to individuals earning $75,000 or less. If Dems are smart and reject the dumb proposal to limit eligibility for this round of payments, they can still say that no "high-income" folks got payments.
  • Dems blocked an amendment that would have prohibited a tax on carbon emissions. Yes, even Manchin, who got elected after that dumb campaign ad where he shot a pile of paper representing a cap-and-trade bill.
  • Steve Daines (R-Montana) got two Democrats, Manchin and Jon Tester (D-Montana), to vote for an amendment calling to restore approval for the Keystone XL pipeline, which Biden killed off with a first-day executive order.
  • Mike Braun (R-Indiana) managed to get approval (57-43) for an amendment saying the Senate approves of fracking.

Roll Call points out that the Daines and Braun amendments were ultimately stripped out of the version of the bill that was ultimately passed, too.

Also, we thought this was cute, from the Washington Post: Joni Ernst offered an amendment that would ban raising the minimum wage during a pandemic. Then Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), the new chair of the Senate Budget Committee, said that was just great, and he'd vote for it, since the stimulus package's plan to raise the minimum wage will be phased in over five years, by which time we damn well better have the pandemic under control. That one passed unanimously.

Eventually the whole stupid exercise ended and the bill — which again, even with the amendments, is a placeholder for the real legislation — passed 51-50, with Harris presiding.

And now it's on to really getting this stimulus written, while campaign teams start looking through C-SPAN video to select juicy stuff for attack ads.

The Senate isn't just fucking weird, it's antidemocratic and we should get rid of it, the end.

[Politico / MarketWatch / WaPo / Roll Call / Vox / Photo: Robert Nunnally, Creative Commons license 2.0]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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