So the Senate healthcare reform bill has met its first major cloture vote, and passed. (The vote was to cut off debate on the manager’s amendment, which incorporates the compromises worked out to satisfy one and all. By Senate rules, Republicans can — and, therefore, will — force debate to continue for a maximum of 30 hours after the cloture vote, which ended just after 1:15 a.m. today. So the manager’s amendment will now come up for an up-or-down vote just after 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.)
After Ben Nelson announced on Saturday morning that he was signing on, it was a foregone conclusion that this cloture motion would succeed. The only real question was whether the vote would be a strictly party line 60-40, or whether Olympia Snowe — despite all her nonsense about not voting for the bill unless Democrats slowed down the process — would realize at the last minute that history was still calling. She made it clear that she doesn’t care any longer about answering history’s call.
The low point of the debate was probably reached when Tom Coburn appeared to call on Americans (real Americans, of course) to pray that a Democratic senator would drop dead before the 1 a.m. vote:
… Sen. Tom Coburn’s (R-Okla.) remarks stood out, as they often do: “What the American people ought to pray is that somebody can’t make the vote tonight. That’s what they ought to pray.”
The veiled comment made it seem as if Coburn may have had nefarious intentions towards someone in the Democratic caucus. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) responding to Coburn by lamenting “the malignant and vindictive passions that have descended on the Senate.” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) added that he was “troubled” by Coburn’s remarks, and encouraged the right-wing senator to “come back to the floor and explain exactly what he meant.”
Coburn did not.
In any case, now, after Tuesday morning’s up-or-down vote, Harry Reid will immediately file a cloture motion to cut off debate on the healthcare bill itself. That will come up for a vote after another 30 hours, early Wednesday afternoon. Not much uncertainty there either (unless someone makes a rude face at Joe Lieberman between now and then). Debate will then be dragged on by Republicans for yet another 30 hours, bringing us to an up-or-down vote on the healthcare bill on Thursday night, perhaps around 9 p.m.
If Republicans wanted, all of these votes could be held on Monday morning itself. But they feel there is something to be gained by dragging out the entire process as long as possible, and forcing a vote late at night on Christmas eve. (Sadly, this is what passes for legislative achievement these days among Republicans.) In their collective mind, America (the real America) is applauding every pointless delay as a vital blow for Democracy and Freedom (against Socialism and Fascism and the Single Payer System this bill will inevitably lead to).
While it is pretty much a foregone conclusion that the Senate will pass the healthcare bill on Christmas eve, there are still real issues to be resolved during the House-Senate reconciliation process. There will certainly be some spirited skirmishing over abortion restrictions, with Stupak and his allies holding out for the House bill’s more restrictive language over the Senate’s post-Ben-Nelson version. If the conference committee bill leans towards the Senate version, that may upset the fragile balance in the House (where the healthcare bill passed by only a 220-215 margin). If it leans towards the House version, that will no doubt outrage many progressives in the Senate. So there’s still a lot of sausage-making left to go.