The Democrats’ push to advance their energy and health care bill is likely to head toward a procedural pothole known in Washington as “vote-a-branch.”
The time-consuming and stamina-intensive process is among the final hurdles for Democrats, along with the Senate MP’s review of the package.
Politically, a branch vote gives Republicans the opportunity to sow discord and create distraction by forcing Democrats to vote on controversial issues. But, once it’s over, Democrats have a chance to advance their package on a straight partisan line vote that would not be subject to the filibuster’s 60-vote threshold.
This is what you need to know:
What is a vote-a-branch?
Generally, in the legislative process, legislators can use a number of procedural maneuvers to avoid a vote on amendments. But in a budget reconciliation process, which Democrats are using to advance their bill, you can’t do that.
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Legislators cannot take a final vote on a reconciliation bill until all amendments have been “arranged” or, in simpler terms, “voted on.”
The practice involves votes on a series of amendments that can, and often do, drag on for hours.
How do legislators use the process?
The party in charge generally wants to advance this branch vote as quickly as possible with as few votes as possible. The minority party takes the opportunity to force votes on all sorts of measures that they normally don’t have the power to introduce.
How long is each vote?
Legislators generally agree to a process that looks a lot like this.
The legislator introduces an amendment (sometimes it is simply written on a piece of paper).
There is one minute of debate divided equally by each side.
Each amendment takes about 15 minutes to pass. The process moves quickly by Senate standards, which is why it’s so important that members basically stay in or near the chamber for the entire marathon event.
What’s on the bill?
The bill contains a number of goals for Democrats, including some provisions that party leaders have worked on for years:
Negotiating Medicare drug prices. The bill would empower Medicare to negotiate the prices of certain expensive drugs administered in doctors’ offices or purchased at the pharmacy.
Inflation cap. The legislation would also impose penalties on pharmaceutical companies if they raise their prices faster than inflation.
Tax provisions. To boost revenue, the bill would impose a minimum 15% tax on corporations, raising $313 billion over a decade.
climatic provisions. The deal would be the largest climate investment in US history. It would reduce US carbon emissions by 40% by 2030, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s office said.
Still, this is not Build Back Better 2.0. The package is less than half the size of Biden’s original social safety net plan, and several key Democratic priorities are likely to be sidelined.
What’s in and out of the Democrats’ inflation-fighting package
Lower prescription drug costs
Help paying for health insurance
‘Largest individual investment in climate change in US history.’