On Tuesday morning, the Senate voted 67-33 to invoke cloture on the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 (BBA). Before the vote, Democrats were searching for 5 Republicans to agree with them; in the end, 12 did. No Democrat sided with the Republicans. Now that cloture has been invoked, the Senate can debate the measure for up to 30 hours, but they probably will not do so, provided both sides agree to dispense with the remaining time. The Washington Post has reported that the Senate could vote on the matter as early as Tuesday evening or as late on Wednesday night. The legislation is expected to pass, but it might be by closer margins than the cloture vote. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has largely been quiet on the measure, but came out against it following the vote, preferring to stick with the lower spending levels of the Budget Control Act of 2011.
Once the BBA passes the Senate, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees are cleared to advance their spending bills pursuant to the congressional budget. They have until January 15 to complete the process, or the government will have to shutdown…again. The two Appropriations Chairmen Senator Barbara Mikulski and Representative Hal Rodgers have pledged to draft the bills on time, or at least pass a very short-term continuing resolution to keep the government open until they finish. They intend to draft 12 individual bills and then combine them into a single omnibus bill, thus avoiding the potential procedural blockages associated with going through the chambers multiple times. The House has already left town and the Senate will do so before next week, but staff will work on the bills throughout the break—but hopefully not on Christmas Day.
The Senate is indeed hoping to plow through a busy list of bills and nominations to consider to get out of town as soon as possible. Any number of things could slow them down, and Senator Rand Paul is pledging to do just that. Earlier this week cloture was invoked on the nomination of Janet Yellen for chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, meaning that there can be at most 30 hours of debate on her nomination. Senator Paul has said that he will demand that all 30 hours be used, unless he receives a vote on his legislation to audit the Fed, one of his signature issues.
On our blog, we have frequently endorsed the principle that the original intent of the Founding Fathers should be used in interpreting the U.S. Constitution. For anyone convinced of the importance of a strong legislature in preserving a free and healthy republic, this principle is absolutely crucial, since the Framers thought the Legislative Branch should be preeminent, even if it shared powers with the others. Constitutional scholar Richard Epstein has recently argued that subtle changes in the interpretation of the Constitution can have big differences in the way the elected and other public officials conceive of the balance of power among the branches of government.
And for our latest blog post: Flattening the Rules: The Implications of the Senate’s Nuclear Option