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Capitolworks: Just the Facts...Vote Time?

We are once again in a state of waiting for the Senate health care bill. Over the weekend, Senate Leader McConnell said he would delay the vote given Senator McCain’s surgery and therefore absence over the coming days. So what does this delay tell us about the state of this current iteration of the bill?

A logical theory is that McConnell did not have the votes to move forward with a motion to proceed absent, McCain. The vote's delay may also suggest that negotiations are moving along and that McConnell wants more time. Since returning from the July 4th recess and unveiling the revised language of the bill, Washington has been a buzz of activity trying to figure out not only the substance of the bill but also its process.

Once released, the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) score will provide more analysis and information on the substance of the bill so alternatively, this blog will focus on the process and in particular, the very first and perhaps deciding event for the bill—the motion to proceed.

If you have been reading our other blogs, you now know that the legislative process is filled with complexities, lesser known tactics and at times, general confusion. While there are many procedural hurdles that the Senate must navigate to move their health care bill, it all comes down to one simple vote that will determine whether or not the bill will survive to meet its’ next challenge.

A motion to proceed is a vote taken in the Senate to move a bill forward through the next steps of the legislative process, which include debate, amendments, and final votes. This motion serves as a barometer for Leadership to gauge where each Senator stands concerning the bill and what negotiations are necessary to garner the necessary support.

At the moment, Senators Paul and Collins have stated they will vote against the motion to proceed. And, with McCain’s absence, Senator McConnell knows he does not have the votes needed to clear this first crucial hurdle, or at least not at this time. Certainly, tough negotiations have been going on over the weekend and will extend into this week in an attempt to obtain support for the motion to proceed. These negotiations to support this first hurdle will undoubtedly rely upon the promise of changing aspects of the bill during the amendment process.

If in fact, a motion to proceed passes in the coming weeks, that will put into action a process that includes 20 hours of debate where an unlimited number of amendments to the bill can be filed followed by an up or down vote on each amendment referred to as a "vote-o-rama."

The Senate struggle for health care reform is ongoing with an unpredictable outcome. Some believe that if the bill does not pass before they break after their now extended summer session, no more attempts will be made during this congressional year. Others speculate that Congress will move forward with specific repeal provisions and forgo the larger reform aspects such as Medicaid as they must work to fulfill campaign promises before hitting the trail again next year. All we know with any sense of certainty is that the Senate must first allow a vote on this bill to move the process forward and at the moment, that is proving rather difficult to obtain.

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