Senate Begins Marathon Stimulus Debate—Here’s What You Need To Know About Thursday’s ‘Vote-A-Rama’

Topline

As part of the special process that will eventually allow congressional Democrats to pass President Biden’s sweeping $1.9 trillion relief plan without any Repulican votes, the Senate on Thursday began a grueling legislative session called a “vote-a-rama.” Here’s everything you need to know. 

Key Facts

The term “vote-a-rama” refers to the period where lawmakers can introduce amendments to the budget resolution that is the first step in the process of drafting Biden’s stimulus plan.

Senators will be able to offer up an unlimited number of changes, meaning that the votes on those changes will stretch late into the night and possibly into Friday morning, and the process only stops when party leaders agree to end it. 

While those amendments are not binding and will not necessarily affect the outcome of the final stimulus bill (which has not yet been drafted), they can be used to force lawmakers to take an on-the-record stance on controversial issues. 

Republicans plan to introduce amendments to maintain President Trump’s border wall, restore the Keystone XL pipeline permit that Biden just cancelled, and prohibit sending stimulus checks to undocumented immigrants, Politico reported.

CNN’s Lauren Fox notes that the vote-a-rama is “where future political ads are born,” since lawmakers’ votes on amendments brought forward during the process can be used by their political opponents as campaign messaging in future elections. 

Big Number

546. That’s how many amendments to the budget resolution had been filed by Thursday afternoon.

Crucial Quote

“If we’re to debate this phony partisan budget, we will create some clarity for the American people,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Thursday morning on the Senate floor. “We’re going to put senators on the record.”

Chief Critic

“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,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said. “It is nonsense, and everybody should ignore it if they can. Do anything to not watch vote-a-rama.”

Key Background

Democrats in the Senate and House voted this week to move Biden’s stimulus bill forward using a special process called budget reconciliation, which only requires a simple majority of lawmakers to pass a bill. Democrats have a razor thin majority in the Senate—50 Democratic lawmakers plus Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote—that will allow them to pass the legislation without a single Republican vote, provided the entire caucus votes together. Democrats have been criticized for this approach by Republicans who say the process will undermine Biden’s campaign promises of unity and bipartisanship, but Democratic leaders have insisted the vote-a-rama process offers opportunities for Republicans to contribute.

What To Watch For

After the Senate finishes voting on amendments, the chamber will vote on the final resolution that directs legislative committees to begin drafting the massive relief bill. Once the House approves that same resolution, those committees can get to work. The legislation they produce will be subject to budget rules, meaning that some provisions in Biden’s original plan may not make the final cut, and can be passed with a simple majority of votes.

Further Reading

68% Of Americans Approve Of Biden’s $1.9 Trillion Stimulus Plan, Poll Finds (Forbes)

Manchin Doubles Down On Call For Bipartisan Stimulus: We’re Not Going To ‘Shove It Down People’s Throats’ (Forbes) 

Senate Democrats Move Biden’s $1.9 Trillion Stimulus Plan Forward—With Or Without Republican Support (Forbes)

Biden Urges Democrats To Keep $1,400 Stimulus Checks (Forbes)

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