Republicans are using the process to put Democrats in a tough position to not just stay united, but also consistent about the stimulus package.
Here’s what you need to know:
What is a vote-a-rama?
Usually in the legislative process, lawmakers can use a series of procedural maneuvers to avoid voting on amendments. But in a budget reconciliation process — which Democrats are using to advance their bill — you can’t do that.
Lawmakers cannot hold a final vote on a reconciliation bill until all the amendments have been “disposed of,” or in simpler terms “voted on.”
The practice involves votes on a series of amendments that can — and usually do — stretch for hours.
How do lawmakers use the process?
The party in charge typically wants to move this vote-a-rama along as quickly as possible with as few votes as possible. The minority party takes the opportunity to force votes on all kinds of measures they don’t typically have the power to put on the floor.
How long does each vote take?
Usually, lawmakers agree to a process that looks a lot like this.
- Lawmaker introduces an amendment (sometimes it is just written on a piece of paper).
- There is a minute of debate equally divided by each side.
- 10 minutes to vote.
Each amendment takes about 15 minutes or so to get through. The process moves quickly by Senate standards, which is why it is so important for members to basically stay in or close by the chamber for the entire marathon event.
How will the vote-a-rama play out for the Covid-19 package?
Republicans, who have denounced the bill as a partisan measure, had signaled they’d use the vote-a-rama to make things as painful as possible for Democrats.
Multiple GOP members and aides familiar with the planning previously told CNN that the plan is two-fold: try to peel Democratic members off on a few key amendment votes to highlight differences within the Democratic ranks as well as create some ripe-for-campaign moments that can be made into political ads later on.
Forcing a full reading of the bill, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin took steps to stretch out the timeline for considering the legislation and any amendments offered to it.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called out Johnson in a floor speech Thursday, saying, “We all know this will merely delay the inevitable.” But Democrats will also have to be mindful of some internal division that could spill into public view.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, introduced an amendment that would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, even though Democrats thought Sanders’ amendment violated the spirit of unity among the caucus.
How is this vote-a-rama different than the last one?
Unlike the last vote-a-rama related to the budget resolution that allowed Democrats to move forward with the relief package, this time amendment votes have the ability to change the underlying bill.
Any amendment only needs 51 votes to pass — but there is a catch. At the very end of the process, Schumer can introduce a final amendment that would strip any changes from the bill.
What is Biden saying?
CNN reported that the President made an aggressive pitch to Democrats for his relief plan earlier this week, telling them during a virtual meeting that they all need to accept some provisions they might not like but also must demonstrate to the American people they are responding to the devastating public health and economic crises.