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Cloture… Which Cloture? Or How to Defund ObamaCare in the Senate

This fight to defund ObamaCare is taking a turn for the arcane as it heads into the more frustratingly obtuse chamber of Congress, the Senate. Although the antiquated system of parliamentary arcana in the Senate helps to slow down bills in order that they receive more thorough and deliberate debate, it also makes the proceeding in that chamber very different for those outside the beltway to understand.

As engaged citizens across America call their Senators and urge them to oppose ObamaCare, it appears that some Senate offices are using the obscurity of these procedures to confuse those who are calling.

This confusion is understandable, since activists are being asked to tell their members to oppose cloture (but only if Harry Reid moves to fund ObamaCare).  If that demand isn’t confusing enough, there is more than one possible vote on cloture in the Senate.  So which vote to oppose? And what is cloture?

For those who don’t spend their free time watching C-SPAN and learning the minutia of Senate procedure (i.e. for normal people with lives), here’s a summary of how this fight over ObamaCare could break down.

  1. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid moves to bring the House-passed Continuing Resolution (H.J.Res.59). with its defunding ObamaCare language and all, to the floor of the Senate, using a “motion to proceed”.
  2. At this point, any Senator could object and call for a cloture (end of debate) vote on the motion to proceed.  This would require 60 votes, and thus the 46 Republicans would be able to vote against the motion and effectively kill the bill.  This is NOT, however, what Senator Cruz and other conservatives are aiming for.
  3. Instead, after securing agreement to proceed with the bill, Senator Reid would begin the amendment process, if any. He can choose to have an open amendment process, or (as he usually does nowadays) to "fill the amendment tree" and only allow amendments of his choosing to the floor.  One of these, presumably, would be to remove the language that defunds ObamaCare from the CR.
  4. If Reid does the above, he could then file cloture (end of debate) on the amendment process.  This is the cloture vote that Republicans must unanimously oppose, if it occurs.  Any Senator voting for cloture on the motion to end debate does so knowing that if that vote is passed (requiring 60 votes), the amendments that have been filed will only require 50 votes to pass. Thus, in this case, Republicans voting for this cloture vote are de facto voting to allow the funding of ObamaCare.

Note that any potential filibuster of the Continuing Resolution would occur between points 3 and 4. The whole point of a filibuster is to try to force Senator Reid and the Democrats to reach an agreement that would take away any amendment to fund ObamaCare, or perhaps produce some kind of negotiated settlement.  Once step 4 is over, Reid is in the clear to send the CR back to the House with ObamaCare funded, and we're back where we started.

Armed with this knowledge, you can Take Action to tell wobbly Republicans in the Senate to stand together against funding ObamaCare HERE.

You can also remind Democratic senators from red states that they vote to fund ObamaCare at their own peril HERE.

Monica Bellucci

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