One cloture vote after another

ONE CLOTURE VOTE AFTER ANOTHER…. Reader R.H. emails this afternoon with an important procedural question. It’s a subject that comes up from time to time, which leads me to think a lot of people may be interested in this. With R.H.’s permission, I’m republishing the note:

…We currently have one health care reform bill passed. That’s the House’s. It provides for a public option.

The strong likelihood is that the Senate bill will not provide a public option. So for argument’s sake, let’s say it’s passed and has no public option.

These bills will have to be resolved in conference. That means it will either need to take from the House bill and provide a public option or take from the Senate bill and not provide a public option.

Again for argument’s sake, let’s say we take from the House bill and provide a public option in the final legislation. Ah, but this needs to pass the Senate again, right?

But I believe that the final vote on the conference bill is not subject to cloture votes, meaning that the final conference resolution only needs to pass by a simple majority. And if it were just a matter of a simple majority, the Senate bill WOULD have a public option. So… wouldn’t the final conference resolution providing a public option then pass the Senate by a simple majority and proceed onto the President’s desk?

I wish this were the case, but it’s not. The final, post-conference bill will return to the Senate where it will face the last in a series of filibusters.

And what a series it is. It took a supermajority to bring the bill to the floor for a debate; it will take another supermajority to let the Senate vote on the bill and send it to conference; and it will take another supermajority to let the Senate vote on the final, once-and-for-all bill.

The vision presented by R.H. would certainly expedite matters. The leadership could approve a more modest bill, in line with the demands of Nelson, Landrieu, Lieberman, and Lincoln, and send it conference. The White House could send back a much stronger bill, in line with the House approach, and there’d be nothing center-right Dems could do about it.

Alas, that’s not the case. In fact, after the grueling task of getting the Senate bill to a point at which it can garner 60 votes, I suspect those center-right hold-outs will make a fairly explicit threat to the president and the House negotiators: “You change one letter of this thing and we’ll filibuster it when the bill gets back from conference.”

So, to make a short story long, post-conference bill are filibusterable. Something to keep in mind as the process continues to unfold.