Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 20, 2009

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE IN THE SENATE.... As of late yesterday, we have a reasonably strong sense of what to expect in the Senate with regards to the health care debate. We don't yet know how it's going to turn out, but at least the process seems clear.

In fact, the leadership struck a couple of deals yesterday that make the process pretty straightforward -- the chamber will debate the bill tomorrow, and then vote on the motion to proceed. If there are 60 votes, reform will proceed to another round of debate. If there aren't 60 votes, the entire initiative is in real trouble.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Thursday afternoon set the procedural wheels in motion for a crucial vote on a major health care reform bill Saturday night at 8 p.m. and scored a coup by apparently persuading Republicans to abandon their plans to have the entire 2,074-page bill read aloud on the Senate floor.

Speaking on the floor of the Senate on Thursday afternoon, Reid filed a motion to limit debate, or invoke cloture, on the motion to proceed to a House-passed tax bill that will serve as a shell for the $848 billion Senate health care measure that he unveiled Wednesday.

In doing so, Reid also asked for and received the consent of Republicans to avoid more votes this week as well as a threatened, lengthy reading of the Senate bill. Reid's move means the Senate will wrap up work Saturday and avoid coming into session next week.

Before yesterday's agreement, Republicans were going to force a full reading of every word of the bill, which would in turn lead to another procedural vote around 2 a.m. on Monday morning. Now, none of that will be necessary -- GOP senators will spend all day tomorrow trashing the idea of reforming the dysfunctional health care system, leading up to an 8 p.m. cloture vote. If the motion is approved, the chamber will break for Thanksgiving and return a week from Monday.

Why not hold the vote on the motion to proceed sooner? Because the leadership agreed to have the bill publicly available for 72 hours before the first vote, and Saturday night at 8 p.m. will be exactly 72 hours after the legislation (pdf) was posted online.

With the process question resolved, attention now shifts to assembling 60 votes. If Harry Reid didn't think he could corral the supermajority needed, he probably wouldn't have scheduled tomorrow night's vote. But as of now, it's still unclear if the necessary support is there.

A handful of on-the-fence Dems made clear that they would support the motion to proceed, including Sens. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.). Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) has signaled he's likely to vote with the majority tomorrow night, but it's not definite. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) was supposed to announce her intentions yesterday, but didn't. Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) hasn't said much of anything, and remains a point of concern.

And just to be clear, this isn't a vote on the bill; we're talking about a vote to begin a debate on the bill. It's still astounding to me that three Senate Democrats are reluctant to support a routine procedural measure that would simply allow the chamber to talk about health care reform, and consider changes to the bill.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (8)

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Will you START talking about the Lincoln-Landrieu-Lieberman gag rule, already?????

Frame the damn issue properly from the beginning for once.

Posted by: theAmericanist on November 20, 2009 at 8:00 AM | PERMALINK

It's still astounding to me that three Senate Democrats are reluctant to support a routine procedural measure that would simply allow the chamber to talk about health care reform, and consider changes to the bill.

Sadly, it's not at all astounding.

Posted by: terraformer on November 20, 2009 at 9:01 AM | PERMALINK

So when republicans are faced with working next week and staling what they commonly refer to as "the biggest government takeover ever", they choose vacation. How very republican of them.

Posted by: ScottW on November 20, 2009 at 9:51 AM | PERMALINK

We don't hear much from President Snowe lately, but I would guess she is good to go on a motion to proceed.

Posted by: bob h on November 20, 2009 at 10:15 AM | PERMALINK

The Dem holdouts are awful on the substance, but criticize them on the substance. It is silly to criticize them on a narrow, literalist reading of Senate procedure, when that is not how the Senate works. As a practical matter, tomorrow's vote is an opening test vote on the bill itself. That is how it will be interpreted, so that is what drives how senators vote.

And really, Lincoln and Landrieu are a very different situation than Lieberman. The first two are all about running scared in states that have grown redder. Lieberman is all about having his panties in a bunch and hating hating hating liberal activists.

Posted by: al-Fubar on November 20, 2009 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK

What's really astounding is that Lieberman isn't one of the Dems on the fence for voting yes on the motion to proceed. As soon as he realizes those other Senators are getting more attention than him, he's sure to throw another temper tantrum. I expect him to announce he won't vote yes on the motion to proceed unless the public option is removed from the bill.

Posted by: Ron E. on November 20, 2009 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe it is about time that President Obama and Harry Reid put their foot down and tell these "Blue Dog" Democrats for them to back this Health Care Reform bill. Mary Landrieu (D-La.)without hesitation should either back the bill or tell the Governor to give back all of the millions of dollars given to LA over these past four years that helped them to get back on their feet. If Mary doesn't feel her state and the rest of the nation doesn't need health care reform than she should resign her position as a senator. Listening to news reports it has been stated that LA needs health care for for a large number of people right now. Blanch Lincoln isn't even listening to the people in her state. I understand that a large majority wants her to vote for the health care reform..Of course, she is only interested in being able to keep her senate seat. Why didn't these two senators worry about the deficit when Bush was president. After all he left this large deficit along with the economy in the tank for President Obama to deal with. The Democratic Party doesn't need senators like these two senators. They act more like Republicans than Democrats.

Posted by: UAWildcatsRwings on November 20, 2009 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

Just how observant IS Leiberman? Does he take the restrictions for Sabbath seriously? In other words, will he be in DC, in the Senate building or will he be somewhere else and, possibly, a no-show?
Not that I think he'd deliberately do something like that...

Posted by: Doug on November 20, 2009 at 8:10 PM | PERMALINK
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