[ Posted Thursday, August 5th, 2021 – 16:10 UTC ]

As I write this, it is still unclear whether the Senate will undergo the marathon parliamentary endurance contest known as "vote-a-rama" tonight or not. If so, the Senate will likely be in session until the wee hours of Friday morning finishing up the amendment process on the bipartisan infrastructure deal. This could even lead to a cloture vote and final passage of the bill before the weekend, although that still has to be considered a longshot. Saturday passage might be a lot more realistic, although the chances of at least the vote-a-rama happening tonight appear to be greater [note: former Senator Mike Enzi's funeral is scheduled for Friday, which effectively scratches that day from the schedule].

For the Senate, it must be noted, this is operating at top speed. The bill was formally introduced at the start of the week, and so far the Senate has voted on 22 amendments to the bill. As Majority Leader Chuck Schumer pointed out, under his leadership the Senate has already had the opportunity to vote on more amendments to all bills since January than happened under Mitch McConnell for the previous two entire years (2019-2020). Schumer has opened the process up in a return to more-normal Senate behavior. Many more amendments are expected to get floor votes, which is what the entire "vote-a-rama" process is all about. Now that the Congressional Budget Office has released its scoring of the bill, there seems to be nothing standing in the way of the vote-a-rama getting underway.

Most (if not all) of these amendments are doomed to failure. Either the group of Republicans who negotiated the deal will stick with the Democrats, or all Democrats will stick together (with Vice President Kamala Harris) to shoot them all down. Most of these amendments have been introduced to score political points, since the authors already know they are likely to fail. This is how campaign ads that claim things such as: "Senator Smith voted against helping puppies while in the Senate, so you should ask yourself if you can vote for a man who hates puppies" are born, in fact. "What do puppies have to do with infrastructure?" is not a very good rejoinder to such an attack, which is why such attacks are so popular (and please note: both parties make full use of this tactic).

In any case, no matter how many puppy-loving amendments Schumer allows, at some point the process will wrap up. At some point the final cloture vote will happen, which is the all-important 60-vote hurdle remaining to be cleared. The final vote on passing the bill is separate, and requires only a majority, so if the cloture vote works then the bill's final passage will be all but guaranteed.

Immediately following this achievement, the Senate will then take up the budget reconciliation bill being written by Bernie Sanders. This has been hovering in the background while the bipartisan infrastructure bill hogged the media spotlight, but will be a much more momentous -- and contentious -- bill for the Senate to consider. At present, this is also scheduled to happen beginning this weekend. This is the bill currently tagged at $3.5 trillion which will add all the "human infrastructure" proposals that the bipartisan bill left on the cutting-room floor. Because it is so massive and so transformative, a lively debate is expected, with slings and arrows coming from both the right and from centrist Democrats (who may get weak-kneed at the price tag).

Bernie's had a lot of extra time to finalize this package, due to all the delays in the bipartisan bill. But so far, very few leaks or hints as to what will be included have appeared. The only solid things known about it are what Sanders himself has publicly mentioned, which include his big push for Medicare to cover hearing, vision, and dental. What got left behind was another big progressive idea, lowering the eligibility age for Medicare.

One assumes that once the bipartisan bill safely makes it through (and over to Nancy Pelosi's desk), Bernie will release the text of his bill. Then there will be a giant fight both within the Democratic Party and between the two parties, and then the bill will pass with purely Democratic votes. That's the plan, at any rate.

This may also happen very quickly, because the Senate's vacation time will be eaten into if it takes longer than a few days. Schumer has remained firm that the two bills will both get final votes before everyone leaves for their annual extended vacation, and he even indicated today that a separate voting-rights bill will also receive a vote before everyone gets to leave. Because each extra day in Washington in August means one less day somewhere else for all the senators, the usual delaying tactics of the Republicans may be a lot more subdued. There is simply nothing better to spur the Senate to act than the threat of losing vacation time (just ask Harry Reid, who was a master of this tactic).

In any case, no matter how many vacation days they have to forfeit, if Bernie's bill makes it through, it will represent an enormous step forward -- for Bernie and the progressives, for President Joe Biden's agenda, and for the country as a whole. But it's not the end of the process -- many of the nuts-and-bolts details will not be known until much later. What Bernie is putting together now will set overall spending limits for individual committees to use. Then, after the August break, the Senate will reconvene and each one of those committees will decide how to use the pot of money they've been allocated. That is going to be where the real horse-trading happens. This process could (and probably will) take months.

The big question that remains -- and I have not seen this actually asked of her by a reporter yet -- is when Nancy Pelosi will act on it all. If everything goes according to plan, then she will soon get both bills from the Senate, starting with the bipartisan infrastructure bill. A few days later, Bernie's budget reconciliation bill will also (hopefully) arrive.

There's not much in the way of time pressure on Pelosi right now, since the House has already scarpered off on their massive August vacation. Pelosi has so far been rather cool to the idea of calling them all back to hold votes, so presumably both bills will sit in her inbox until September. Once the House does return to doing the job the taxpayers pay them to do, the next steps are still unclear.

Pelosi drew a line in the sand over the bipartisan bill. It was so cut-down from what Biden originally proposed in his American Jobs Act that the progressives balked at passing it unless and until the budget reconciliation package had also passed the Senate. Pelosi is using her leverage to maximum advantage with this move, which forces the Senate Democrats to act on both measures before either one of them will even be introduced in the House.

But there is a key unanswered question: Pelosi said she wouldn't move forward without both bills, but will the initial budget reconciliation bill be good enough for her -- or will she hold out until the final budget reconciliation bill is passed by the Senate? If it's the former, then both bills could appear on President Biden's desk by mid-September. If it's the latter, then perhaps by Christmas (just being realistic, here).

So far, however, the process seems to be moving along. In watching Congress, you can kind of get a feel for which bills seem to have enough unstoppable momentum behind them to pass, at times. Both of these bills seem to have that quality, this year. Biden and the rest of the Democrats really need both, in order to campaign for the midterms on what incredible things are possible with Democrats in control of everything. Half a loaf is definitely not going to cut it, this time around -- and (for once) everyone seems to realize that. So I remain optimistic, for now. I'll be even more optimistic if the vote-a-rama happens tonight and is wrapped up before the weekend. It's the next step on a rather long path, but it will also be a very important one for the Senate to take.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


25 Comments on “Vote-A-Rama!”

  1. [1] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    Thanks for the optimistic update!

    As I read the commentary on the two big bills, the so-called trillion dollar infrastructure bill and the whopping 3.5 trillion dollar budget, I keep trying to remember if these numbers represent spending in the single upcoming fiscal year, or if they are spread out over the upcoming ten years. I could look it up, but I could also ask here - with the point that, if the bills are ten-year programs, it would be good if more commentators would bring that to the public's attention. But if the numbers really are just for 2021-22, well, never mind and carry on!

  2. [2] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I believe it's over 10 years ... otherwise, it would be laughable. Heh.

  3. [3] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    It's not a practice of mine to share NYTimes op-eds but, this one is different.

    David Brooks is one of the few opinion columnists who has always understood who Biden is and what he is all about.

    Here he explains why it is that Biden represents the base of the Democratic party, not the 'gimme what I want when I want it and how I want it' progressives are most decidedly not the base nor do they understand how to govern effectively.

    The Biden Approach is Working

  4. [4] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    With all respect, E.M. [3]
    I've always regarded Brooks as a kind of high-paid hack, whose idea of column-writing is to give a book report on whatever he read this week.

    In this case it's the article on the 'secret Congress', which he reposts in his own words, and then builds into a screed against all the "power" that the progressive Democratic wing wielded in the American government two years ago.

    This kind of thing really just serves to balance all those think-pieces that declare Uncle Joe to be to the left of FDR in his late-in-life liberal instincts, such that the Biden administration's legacy may outweigh that of the New Deal in steering America permanently to the left of where it's been for a generation or three.

    Brooks doesn't address the conflict between these two views of Biden's governance, of course. That would require thinking past whatever article or book got him through this week's requirement to produce a column with the requisite word count.

    Sorry to be so cynical, but David Brooks? Really??

  5. [5] 
    SF Bear wrote:

    Seriously David Brooks? He spends so much energy trying to be in the center he resembles a dog chasing his tail. Has he ever uttered a thought provoking idea? I think EM does Biden a serious injustice implying that David Brooks is his avatar.

  6. [6] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Well, at least you didn't say 'with all DUE respect'. :)

  7. [7] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    So, David Brooks strikes a chord with the crowd here. Whatever.

  8. [8] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Brooks doesn't address the conflict between these two views of Biden's governance, of course.

    That's what WE'RE here for - so address it!

  9. [9] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Say, any chance that AOC will get primaried? Heh.

  10. [10] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Sorry, guess I'm still reeling from that Nina Turner concession speech.

  11. [11] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    By the way, Brooks understands what makes Biden tick better than most. Which is why he never refers to him as the cringe-worthy 'Uncle Joe'. So, there.

  12. [12] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:

    Say, any chance that AOC will get primaried? Heh.

    Aww, I like AOC. I don't agree with all her positions, but she takes no crap from republicans and is starting to mature as a congress critter. I have high hopes for her.

  13. [13] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    In other words, it's the progressives, not David Brooks, that is the problem here.

  14. [14] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Yeah, you may be right. I just don't like it when she disrespects Biden. A little more deference on her part will go a long way toward her maturation.

  15. [15] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I have high hopes for her.

    Whoa ... careful there. :)

  16. [16] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    she was primaried last time, with significant money and power behind her challenger, and defeated said primary challenger by better than 70-30. unless she does something monumentally stupid, she's likely to keep her job for a good long time.


  17. [17] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


  18. [18] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    What is her stance/voting strategy on the infrastructure bills?

  19. [19] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    same as pelosi

  20. [20] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


  21. [21] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    John and SF Bear,

    So, you guys don't believe that Biden's approach is working, then?

  22. [22] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    E.M. on [21]

    I guess I'd say I don't know if it's working, yet.

    My strong reaction to the Brooks piece was that it's a one-sided appreciation of both Biden, and the Democratic Party. The progressive wing is not the enemy of the moderates. Both sides have plenty of "I want it now" attitude, and Biden being as smart as he is, knows he has to play to both sides to succeed, rather than take one side because it's the slightly larger one.

    As I said, the more intriguing commentary has been to the effect that Biden has always had a pent-up New Deal liberal side to him, which has never had much chance to forward his career given the alignments in Congress and the country. Between Covid and the Republican rush over the cliff of right-wing craziness and even sedition, Biden may see a chance to preside over a real realignment of the electorate towards a more progressive and effective majority that can overcome the anti-voting and minority-rule aspects of our current system.

    Again, I'm not sure this really describes him, and I'm not sure he can succeed at this. But I do think it's part of what's going on these days, and Brooks is aggressively ignoring it because it's too complicated and too liberal for his taste in punditry.

  23. [23] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    Funny, a few months ago you seemed confident that this would be done by now.

    Instead it's maybe September but realistically by Christmas.

    That will be just in time for the budget "crisis" to push it back to 2022 when it can't be done in an election year.

    But all we have to do is vote for the Deathocrats in 2022 and they will do it in 2023, right?

  24. [24] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    I think Biden has always positioned himself in the best place, usually about dead center, that would get him reelected.

    After the disappointment of "Hope and Change" Obama the Democratic Party has swung left. Joe would be a Trump, er, Joe would be an idiot not to swing with it. Especially because the more Joe actually achieves the better things will go in '22 and '24.

  25. [25] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    My strong reaction to the Brooks piece was that it's a one-sided appreciation of both Biden, and the Democratic Party.

    Yeah, well, it's an opinion piece, you know written by an opinionated op-ed guy. ;)

    And, I didn't post the link because the article intrigued me but, rather that it reiterated a point I've been trying to make around here. Which is to say that Biden's approach is from the center, as per usual, and progressives who have the gall to call him naive or to say that evil is lurking in the Democratic party need to get with the program or form their own party. I think you know who I'm talking about.

    If Biden's approach doesn't work for your country, nothing will!

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