Senate representatives begin marathon voting session with the finish line in sight

  • Senate Democrats began a marathon vote on Saturday.
  • The so-called “vote-a-rama” is a necessary step to advance the Democrats’ economic plan.
  • It could last over a dozen hours, given the last three voice-a-ramas.

Senate Democrats on Saturday night proceeded to “vote-a-rama” on their $740 billion climate, health and tax bill. It’s the marathon vote in which lawmakers in both parties offer as many amendments as they can physically stomach without a time limit.

The package — negotiated mainly between Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia — would allow Medicare to negotiate the price of some prescription drugs, establish more than $300 billion in clean energy tax credits and extend financial assistance so Americans can buy health coverage under the Affordable Care Act for three more years.

Vote-a-ramas typically stretch over a dozen hours and into the night, depending on when they start. Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the Republican chief pollster, said to expect at least four dozen amendment votes on inflation, immigration and crime — all areas Republicans want to beat Democrats into in the midterm campaign season.

Earlier in the day, the Democrats put in a long night. Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan urged reporters to “go get something to eat.” While Manchin asked how many reporters would cover the debate until the end. Just before dinner, assistants wheeled in a large cart full of barbecue food.

“There are a lot of rumors that it could be done tomorrow, but we are ready,” Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, told reporters. “I was like a change of clothes, different things, ready to go as long as it takes.”

Senate Republicans vowed to force Democrats to take politically painful votes, part of an effort to leverage those positions for the November midterms.

“What will vote-a-rama be like? It will be hell,” Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina told reporters Friday. “These are going to be tough votes for Democrats.”

Other Republicans just seemed unhappy to be in DC.

“Woke up at 05.00 to an e-mail message at 03.00 that my flight at 08.30 was cancelled, but they rebooked me on a flight at 8pm tomorrow night with one connection,” Sen. Marco Rubio of Floria wrote on Twitter, “Now in DC for the joy of being ‘vote en rama’ on a junk bill.”

While Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, lamented missing a family reunion.

“Every December Schumer lays out the schedule for the Senate I set the Grassley family reunion based on the schedule,” Grassley wrote on Twitter. “For the second year in a row, I won’t be at the reunion, I’m in DC to fight their irresponsible tax and spending bills.”

The vote-en-rama is a special part of Senate procedure required because Democrats are trying to push through their plan without a single Republican vote during a process called budget reconciliation. It allows Democrats to blow past the usual filibuster hurdle and its 60-vote threshold that effectively kills most legislation. In turn, minority parties use vote-a-rama as a way to hurt their political opponents since they are unable to resort to the usual protection of the filibuster.

The GOP is hoping that historic headwinds and concerns about inflation will flip the chamber in November. This means they will likely try to push Sens. Mark Kelly, Raphael Warnock and Catherine Cortez Masto, all of whom are seen as the Democrats facing the toughest midterm contests, with difficult votes.

Typically, the party in power does not offer many of its own amendments as a way to preserve support for the overall bill. But Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, has railed against the legislation for not going far enough.

“The bottom line is that today is about whether the Democrats are going to stand up and fight for changes and support changes that meet some very critical needs of working families,” Sanders told reporters. “The changes that I will pass will probably have the support of 70 or 80% of the American people. We will see how much support we get…”

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