Senate Health Care Debate: The Week Ahead

March 23, 2010 | Last updated: July 31, 2020

Just off the phone with the offices of both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), where spokespeople outlined the Senate’s path to finalizing the health reforms passed by the House over the weekend. The rundown:

  • President Obama at 11:15 this morning will sign the Senate’s sweeping health reform bill, which the upper chamber had passed on Christmas Eve and the House approved Sunday night. That moves the second House-passed bill — a reconciliation proposal that amends the larger Senate bill — to the Senate this afternoon. The upper chamber is expected to convene at 2:15 p.m.
  • Republicans, depending on their mood, could put up a few procedural hurdles to stall the process of bringing the bill to the floor, and McConnell’s office said there could be a few “parliamentary things” brought up during this process. But because this is a reconciliation bill, the filibuster isn’t an option. And both sides anticipate that the bill will be on the calendar later today.
  • Once the bill is on the floor, 20 hours of debate are required before the final vote. (That’s actual, active, in-session debate time.) During those 20 hours, however, lawmakers can offer amendments, and voting on those amendments won’t count toward the 20-hour clock. Because any alteration of the reconciliation bill would send the measure back to the House, Democrats aren’t likely to offer any amendments. Republicans don’t have the same motivations, though, so it’s likely we’ll see the 20 hours of debate broken up through the week by proposed GOP add-ons.
  • After the 20 hours has expired, the so-called vote-o-rama begins. That’s the term for the amendment free-for-all where any member of either party can propose changes to the bill. The only rule governing those amendments is that they have to be germane to either the Finance or HELP committees — the two panels through which the health reforms passed last year. That opens the door to an enormous number of amendments (the jurisdictions of those two committees are huge). But two factors will make this process less eternal than it might sound at first. (1) Once the vote-o-rama begins, it’s non-stop until the end. Meaning the Senate can’t adjourn, rest up and come back for more. And (2) the Easter recess is scheduled to begin on Friday. No lawmaker wants to be in Washington any longer than he or she has to, and if it’s apparent early that the Democrats are united in killing every GOP amendment, Republicans will likely recognize the futility in prolonging the process.

For a sense of what would happen if reconciliation is derailed and the Senate bill alone becomes law, look here.