Senate Gets Ready for an All-Night ‘Vote-a-Rama’ on Obamacare

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Yes, the Senate’s doing another all-nighter on Wednesday, though they may not offer cots like this one out of fear that the solons will be snoozing when they should be voting. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

In a fitting nightcap for one of the craziest days in Washington since Michele Bachmann left town, the U.S. Senate is planning an around-the-clock “vote-a-rama” beginning this afternoon, wherein senators (mostly Democrats) will offer amendments to the budget resolution that was originally designed to authorize the repeal of key elements of the Affordable Care Act.

As I explained in a separate piece a week ago, the “vote-a-rama” is a quirky byproduct of the limits the Congressional Budget Act places on debating budget resolutions (or the reconciliation bills that implement them). While time for debate is strictly limited, ruling out filibusters, there are no limits on the number of amendments that can be offered. Thus senators (usually from the minority party) use this opportunity to offer a vast number of amendments on which votes are guaranteed — typically those that put senators on the spot and on the record on sensitive issues.

In the context of this year’s budget, the amendments will mostly be about Obamacare. Several Republican senators have already indicated they want to amend the resolution to stretch out the time available for putting together a reconciliation bill — i.e., to actually repeal Obamacare. It’s anyone’s guess how Donald Trump’s signals this week that he wants action quickly will affect that possibility.

Meanwhile, Democratic senators will be offering a blizzard of amendments, mostly seeking to place this or that Obamacare feature off-limits for the repeal bill. Senator Chris Murphy offered a glimpse of what we might expect:

Easy targets would be amendments that preserve preexisting condition requirements “for each individual major illness in this country,” Murphy said.

You can expect additional amendments that seek to insulate Medicare and Medicaid from big changes. And since House Speaker Paul Ryan has said the reconciliation bill will also include a measure banning distribution of Medicaid funds to Planned Parenthood, that will be the subject of still more amendments.

All in all, reports McClatchy’s David Lightman, senators have filed 105 amendments as of early this morning. Since the vote-a-rama is expected to begin at some point this afternoon, it will probably go all night:

Four years ago, the vote-a-rama took 13 hours, involved voting on 101 amendments and ended at 4:56 a.m. In 2015, the marathon began in the afternoon, involved 40 amendments and lasted until 4:22 a.m. the next day.

Unlike normal Senate voting, these amendments will be called up at very short intervals, with virtually no debate. Thus they are not compatible with simultaneous Senate business. So the vote-a-rama probably won’t get rolling until today’s confirmation hearings are complete. And to make sure senators aren’t snoozing when they should be voting, word is they won’t have cots available.

The bigger question is whether the hearings and Donald Trump’s press conference today (which Republican senators will be watching closely for additional explanation of the Boss’s views on Obamacare) will absorb so much attention that the vote-a-rama will pass virtually unnoticed beyond the ranks of weary senators, staffers, and Capitol Hill reporters. But the votes will be tabulated and pored over later, even if they do not produce big messaging opportunities for either party.

Senate Gets Ready for All-Night ‘Vote-a-rama’ on Obamacare