The Most Important Vote on Health Care

Want to know if Obamacare will be defeated in the Senate?  Thanks to a Senate process known as cloture, you’ll be able to make a pretty educated guess before the first senator votes for or against Obamacare on the Senate floor.

As some of us may have learned all the way back in a high school government class, the Senate can spend nine lives debating something — a bill, a motion to start discussing the bill, etc. A cloture vote is a way to stop the talking. If the Senate votes for cloture, you impose a time limit of up to 30 hours after cloture on that debate. After that, you’re guaranteed a final vote on whatever you’re doing, whether it be a bill or just talking about considering a bill.  So a vote for cloture is essentially permission to move on to the next step.

What makes cloture so important is that you need 60 votes to get it, while to actually pass a bill, you only need 51.

Cloture may come up twice in the health care process.  The Senate first has to talk about whether they want to debate Obamacare, formally called a “motion to proceed.” If they talk too long, you may see a cloture vote. Then, if and when the Senate does actually discuss Obamacare on the floor, you may see another cloture vote telling them to be quiet and vote on the bill.

Neither side is yet sure if they have enough votes to get the outcome they want. If Republicans don’t have enough votes to defeat cloture, however, then they probably won’t have enough votes to defeat the actual bill, unless nine senators receive a Paul-to-Damascus epiphany on their way to vote the second time.  

The Republican leader in the Senate — Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — says the GOP is going to view a vote for cloture on health care as a vote for the bill.  During his press conference Tuesday, he made clear how important a cloture vote was.  

“Our view is that cloture on the motion to proceed to the bill is a bill — is a vote to endorse a half a trillion dollars in Medicare cuts, $400 billion in new taxes, and higher insurance,” McConnell said. “A vote on cloture on the motion to proceed to this bill will be treated as a vote on the merits of the bill.”

And he used Sen. John Kerry as the poster boy to prove his point.

“We all recall Senator Kerry’s strained way in the 2004 campaign of explaining why he voted for it before he voted against,” McConnell said. “I think it is perfectly clear that most Americans will treat the vote to get on the bill as a vote on the substance of the bill.”

And someone across the aisle echoes this philosophy. Democrat Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, who was considered a potential vice presidential candidate for Obama, confirmed at least one Democrat thinks a vote to proceed with the bill should be considered a vote for the bill.  The Politico wrote Wednesday, “Democratic leaders should be able to tell where Bayh is headed based on his vote on whether to move to a debate. The Indiana Democrat said Tuesday that he doesn’t see “much difference between process and policy at this particular juncture,” and that he’ll be “looking at those two things as one and the same.”’

It’s easy to get lost in the legislative jumble that comes out of Washington.  But don’t let the senators fool you with double speak.  If they vote for cloture at any point, they’re giving Obamacare a chance to become law.