After long delays apparently caused by the need to let the parliamentarian decipher and rule on handwritten changes to the bill, the Senate moved into the ponderous vote-a-rama process (a period of brisk votes on unlimited amendments from either party) as the midnight hour approached, with an assured final vote due to happen whenever amendments — or the endurance of senators — run out.
With Republicans having nailed down the votes they needed for final passage earlier Friday, the late afternoon and early evening were devoted to frantic behind-the-scenes efforts to write up the concessions made to get to 50 votes, ensure they complied with parliamentary rules, and then get them into the vast 479-page substitute amendment, which Mitch McConnell will at some point offer (they are initially amending the House bill). As the vote-a-rama was put off again and again, Democrats railed at the slapdash nature of the enterprise, and the appearance of legislative language in the offices of K Street lobbyists before Senators were given a glimpse.
Democratic protests concluded just before McConnell arrived to begin the vote-a-rama as Chuck Schumer offered a motion to adjourn until Monday to give everyone time to read the bill. It went down on a strict party vote; even Bob Corker of Tennessee, who announced earlier he would vote against the bill itself, stuck with the GOP on the procedural vote.
The only moment of drama in the early stages of the highly ritualized vote-a-rama was when Marco Rubio and Mike Lee offered an amendment making the increased child tax credit available to anyone with payroll tax liability, with the cost paid for by a pinch taken from the bill’s lowered corporate tax rate. It had attracted some bipartisan attention. But in the end, it was emphatically voted down by a coalition of liberal Democrats who said it did not go far enough and Republicans who didn’t want to annoy their corporate friends and donors to help working people.
Most other amendments that will be offered as the night goes on will be strictly Kabuki theater, with Democrats trying to highlight vulnerable aspects of the bill and Republicans rejecting the amendments on party-line votes. But McConnell has an insurance policy in case he fears any unwelcome amendment might pass: He can hold back on offering his substitute amendment, which, when it is adopted, will sweep away any amendments that have previously been adopted.
Although the slow and painful process of the vote-a-rama has moved to center stage right now, the abiding image of today’s proceedings will be of the handwritten changes on a hastily lashed-together substitute bill that Republicans feared to delay because their majority was so fragile. It’s unlikely the unwieldy mess by which it is adopted will improve the reputation of this unpopular bill. The GOP wanted a tax cut in the worst way, and that’s what they’ve got.