Senate holds “vote-a-rama” as Democrats push forward on $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill

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Washington — The Senate is expected to vote on a budget resolution sometime before the weekend, an important step to passing President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief proposal through the process of reconciliation, which allows legislation to pass with only a simple majority instead of the typical 60-vote threshold. 

But before there can be a final vote on the resolution, Republicans will force Democrats to go on the record with a series of votes on a slew of amendments in a politically painful process known as a “vote-a-rama.”

Democrats have pushed forward with the process of budget reconciliation to pass the relief legislation, meaning that they will be able to approve it without any Republican votes. Once both houses of Congress pass the budget resolution, which serves as the vehicle for the legislation, committees begin formulating a reconciliation bill itself. The reconciliation bill will receive 20 hours of debate, and then another “vote-a-rama” before a final vote.

Republicans have lined up hundreds of amendments before the vote on the budget resolution sometime late Thursday or early Friday, and the Senate will likely vote on dozens of these amendments. A “vote-a-rama” is a Senate tradition in which the minority party attempts to put political pressure on the majority for trying to pass controversial legislation, and can often last into the early hours of the morning.

“Senate Republicans will be ready and waiting with a host of amendments to improve the rushed procedural step that’s being jammed through,” McConnell said Wednesday in a speech on the Senate floor. “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.”

GOP Senators Todd Young and Tom Cotton have introduced an amendment prohibiting the government from providing direct checks to undocumented immigrants. Senators Tim Scott, John Barrasso and James Lankford will force a vote on an amendment to reduce funding to states that have an active investigation into nursing homes for underreported deaths. Scott and Senator Roy Blunt also have introduced an amendment that prohibits schools that do not reopen after teachers are vaccinated from receiving federal funds.

Democrats have the narrowest possible majority in the Senate with 50 seats. This means that Vice President Kamala Harris will likely need to be on hand on Thursday to cast any tie-breaking vote if all 50 Republicans vote to move forward on an amendment.

In a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday, Democratic Senator Brian Schatz urged Americans to tune out the “vote-a-rama,” calling it a political stunt.

“We need to remember what this is all about. This is not about 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,” Schatz said. “It is nonsense, and everybody should ignore it if they can. Do anything to not watch vote-a-rama.”

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