Playing the Senate Waiting Game

by: John Swayer, NACHC Health Centers on the Hill Blog

Changing leaves, the smell of crackling fires. College football, breaking out the scarf for the first time since last winter.  There are certain rituals that come along every fall, especially as the holiday season approaches.  Here in Washington, we’re engaged in another annual ritual: speculation on how long it will take the U.S. Senate to finish the job they were sent here to do, and how much business they can cram into their last few weeks.  This year, it’s all about the health reform debate.

In the case of health reform, here’s where we are: Senator Reid had hoped to bring a bill to the floor to begin debate this week.  But, he’s still waiting on a “score” (cost estimate) from the Congressional Budget Office.  Since a bill needs to be public for 72 hours before voting on a “motion to proceed” (essentially a vote to start debating, which also requires 60 votes), that means debate won’t start until next week at the earliest.  It’s projected to take 3-4 weeks of floor debate to finish, and at that point, you need another 60 to force an end to debate.  If you can get your 60 there, you technically only need 51 votes to pass the bill – but, for better or for worse, everyone treats the procedural votes like they are the actual vote.

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