|Recent Senate Votes|
|Temporary Rules Changes – Vote Agreed to (78-16, 6 Not Voting)
The only action in the Senate last week focused on the upper chamber’s internal rules. There has been much bitter recrimination between majority Democrats and minority Republicans in recent years over a general lack of productivity, which the majority blames on obstruction – mostly in the form of a geometric increase in usage of the filibuster – and the minority blames on stonewalling, mostly in the form of Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada “filling the amendment tree” on bills brought to the floor, thereby preventing Republicans (or anyone else, for that matter) from offering amendments. A group of Democrats led by Tom Udall of New Mexico and Jeff Merkley of Oregon had been pushing a return to the “talking” filibuster of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington fame, which they claimed could be pushed through with a simple majority of 51 votes at the beginning of the 113th Congress. Udall and Merkley (and most other Democrats) deemed this the “constitutional” option, since nowhere in the Constitution does it state that the Senate should operate under anything but majority rule except in rare circumstances such impeachment of a president and approving treaties. Republicans dubbed the Merkley/Udall proposal the “nuclear” option, claiming it would completely destroy what was left of the body’s traditional comity and leave the minority little choice but to engage in parliamentary guerrilla war to have a voice in the chamber. In the event, the nuclear button was not pushed, and what changes occurred last week will mostly tinker around the edges. Senators cast two votes, the first on a temporary rules change applicable only in the 113th Congress. The biggest effect of the change would be to limit the ability to filibuster the motion to proceed, which is a procedural hurdle that must be leapt in order to consider a bill on the floor. If the two leaders agree on a set of four amendments, two each from the minority and majority, debate on the motion to proceed would be limited to four hours. The other change would limit post-cloture debate time on lower-level judges and executive branch nominees.
Permanent Rules Changes – Vote Agreed to (86-9, 5 Not Voting)
The second vote instituted a permanent change to the Senates rules; it also chiefly concerns the motion to proceed. Currently when the majority leader files a cloture petition in order to end debate, two days of session must pass before a cloture vote can be held and, if cloture is invoked, 30 additional hours must pass before voting on the actual matter at hand (in this case, the motion to proceed to the bill). The rules change would allow a cloture vote to be held the day after a petition is filed, if the cloture petition is signed by both the Majority and Minority Leaders and seven members each from the majority and minority. If cloture on the motion to proceed is then invoked, senators would immediately vote on the motion instead of waiting 30 hours. The other permanent rules change would condense the process for motions to go to conference with the House, reducing the number of motions needed and thus the number of opportunities to filibuster from three to one.
|Recent House Votes|
|Short-Term Suspension of Debt Limit Final Passage – Vote Passed (285-144, 3 Not Voting)
The House temporarily defused a looming crisis over the debt limit last by passing a bill that, rather than raising the limit that is, setting a new cap on the federal governments borrowing authority actually suspends it meaning there technically is no limit until May 19, at which point the limit would be reset at a new, higher level, to reflect government borrowing activity in the interim period. In addition, the bill would institute an enforcement mechanism for each house of Congress to pass a FY 2014 budget resolution. Beginning April 15, if a chamber has not passed a budget, that chambers members would not receive their paychecks. This would carry on until the earlier of passage of a budget or the last day of the 113th Congress. Though House Democrats mostly decried the bill as a gimmick, President Obama has stated he will sign the bill if it reaches him.
| Disaster Relief Appropriations Act, 2013 – H.R.152
The Senate is scheduled to vote on the Hurricane Sandy disaster relief package on Monday, January 28, as well as an amendment from Republican Mike Lee of Utah that would offset the bill’s cost with spending cuts.
Majority Leader Reid has stated he will bring the House debt limit/no-budget-no-pay bill to the floor.
January 29, 2013
Bennet, Udall, and Perlmutter Watch 1-28-13: Recent Votes