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December 23, 2009, at 2:43 pm — Blogs /


I couldn’t find the answers. I kept looking and looking but I could not find a definitive answer one way or the other. And my question was as simple as the Tootsie Roll question – you know how many licks…

…but my question involved how many votes. How many votes are needed to pass the final health care bill after it leaves conference committee? Is a filibuster still possible?

I read the Senate Rules and could not find the answer.

I saw some media bloggers elude to 60 votes or another filibuster but with no sources to back them up.

I watched as pundits on television barely answered anchors when pressed on what happens after the Senate passes it’s bill. None of them had numbers.

So finally I tried to find my own source. And I did.

According to a Capitol Hill procedural expert:

“…a “merged bill” is going to reach the floor in both chambers in the form of either a conference report or an “amendment between the houses.” In the Senate, either form of proposal is fully debatable, and therefore can be filibustered, so that 60 votes could be required for cloture to overcome the filibuster.”

So a filibuster is still possible on the merged bill – which would mean that if the bill includes a Public Option, as it appears in the House Bill, it could lead to another filibuster. But wait – there’s more.

My source went on to say, and I quote:

“However, the Senate can bring either form of proposal to the floor on a non-debatable motion; in addition, a conference report is not amendable and an amendment between the houses can be brought to the floor in a way that makes it non-amendable (in the Senate this would involve “filling the amendment tree,” meaning that place-holder amendments would be offered first, so as to block any others). Therefore, it will presumably not be necessary to get cloture more than once in order to get to a vote on the final version of the bill.”

Now – does this mean that the items like the Public Option will appear in the final merged bill? No – not necessarily but it does mean that there are procedural measures that can allow the merged bill to go around the debate process and come up for a final vote.

By the way – it only takes 51 votes to pass a bill in the Senate.

Some argue that these rules are overly complex and that our Senate is broken.

The system isn’t broken, but many of those who are within the system, especially some elected officials, are clearly breaking.

They play games and mislead folks in order to win political points – rather than govern. But the system itself is fine. Our system of government is a beautifully complex filtration system of ideas that protects the average citizen from the whims of the moment. It forces consideration and thought. It’s part of the checks and balances put in place by the founding fathers. Is it perfect? No – there is no such system – but it is good.

People forget that their government is not above them and that they themselves are the government. The reason we have a multi-tiered system of government is to create a structure that allows the average citizen to hire, on election days, those who will represent them in government. We vote for a Representative for Congress that reflects our needs at the local, district level. We vote for our Senators who reflect the needs of the state as a whole. Finally we vote for a President to represent us to the world and to oversee the execution of the laws we made with our Senators and Representatives. Think of these politicians as your avatars in government.

The system doesn’t work well though when average citizens demand either swift change without regard to realities on the ground or when, and more often the case, they abdicate their responsibility all together and turn a blind eye to government – hiding behind the excuse that it’s broken. It is only as broken as the average citizen’s attention span might be.

This Health Care Reform effort has done one remarkable thing – it has focused the American people on their government and how it works. I look forward to seeing how this effects the next few elections and other reform efforts.


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