WASHINGTON — It’s a rare weekend session for the Senate as Democrats push to pass their ambitious climate, health care and tax spending bills before they leave Capitol Hill for their traditional August recess.
Democrats are pushing the bill, known as the Inflation Reduction Act, through the budget reconciliation process, which means they have to clear a few procedural hurdles to send the bill to the House and eventually to President Joe Biden’s desk.
Details of Inflation Act:Sen. Joe Manchin and Senate Leader Schumer deal on energy, drug prices, taxes
What is the budget reconciliation process?
Senate Democrats will use the budget reconciliation process to move the bill, allowing them to avoid the 60-vote threshold to overcome a Republican filibuster. This process allows bills to pass with 50 votes, meaning they need a strict party vote with a 50-50 majority (Vice President Kamala Harris would cast the tie-breaking vote). No Republicans are expected to support the final version.
There is one major caveat to the process – the provisions in the bill must relate to the budget in some capacity. Any bill that is on the way to reconciliation must first be passed by a Senate parliamentarian, who combs through the bill for any violations known as the Byrd rule. It was named Virginia Democratic Sen. Harry F. Byrd Sr., a fiscal hawk.
On Saturday morning, Democrats got some good news when they learned that Congresswoman Elizabeth McDonough believes a compromise could be implemented on large parts of the bill on climate initiatives and allowing Medicare to negotiate lower drug costs for seniors.
“… We are one step closer to finally taking on Big Pharma and lowering Rx drug prices for millions of Americans,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y. said in a statement.
What did this lead to?
Last week, Schumer, and Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., unexpectedly announced a deal on a massive spending bill that would tackle climate change, lower prescription drug prices and reduce the federal deficit.
With Republicans expected to do well in November’s midterm elections, the bill could represent a potentially big win for Biden and congressional Democrats who lost confidence in Manchin last year for shooting down the president’s more ambitious Build Back Better plan.
What happens first and when?
The Senate will reconvene on Saturday afternoon and voting is scheduled to begin at 12:30 p.m.
The first vote will be a procedural vote on the motion to proceed. From there, senators can debate the amendment for up to 20 hours, divided equally between senators from both parties.
Senators can either continue the debate for up to 20 hours or give back their time and shorten the debate. Democrats are expected not to use their 10 hours but Republicans may Want to slow down the process.
Once the 20-hour clock runs out or both sides bid their time, a “vote-a-ram” on individual amendments begins.
What is Vote-a-Ram?
In a vote-a-ram, senators can offer an unlimited number of amendments to the bill but the process is quick.
Only one minute is allotted for the debate, which is divided equally between the two sides. Then, senators are given 10 minutes to vote. This process is repeated for every single amendment.
Senators, their staff and reporters alike are bracing for a grueling and grueling slog as the vote-a-ram is expected to run through the night and into Sunday.
The last time the Senate held a vote-a-rama was when it adopted a budget resolution for fiscal year 2022 last August. Senators offered 43 amendments for a vote, causing the session to last about 14 hours.
What’s wrong with that?
Most of the reforms are expected to come from Republicans, who are angry at a deal negotiated without their input.
Republican-proposed reforms are expected to fail. But Vote-a-Ram will allow Republicans to vote on tough issues to Democrats that could be used for ads on the campaign trail this fall.
The deal also drew the ire of some on the left, who criticized the bill’s investment in new fossil fuel development — likely because of the importance of natural gas and coal to the economy of Manchin’s home state.
Progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on the Senate floor Wednesday. urged lawmakers to “do everything possible to combat the greed of the fossil fuel industry” and promised to offer reforms nixing fossil fuel investment in the bill.
Sanders’ amendment is expected to fail because the bill hinges on Mnuchin’s support.
Once all proposed amendments are voted on and senators agree on the bill’s final language, it will move to a final vote. Assuming Schumer keeps all his Democratic colleagues in line, the bill is expected to pass on a 50-50 party-line vote, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote.
“Look, (Republicans) are going to make a lot of reforms, we don’t know what else they’re going to do but like I said, I believe at the end of the day we’re going to have 50 votes to pass this legislation,” Schumer said at a press conference on Friday. Meanwhile.