On to the Senate: The next steps for health reform

Now that the House has passed their health reform bill, what’s next? The Senate, that’s what. In general, this is what will need to happen as we move forward.

Right now, the Senate is waiting for the Congressional Budget Office to "score" the merged health care bill that Majority Leader Harry Reid submitted to them. The CBO score will tell the Senate, within the CBO’s known limitations, how much the Senate health care bill would cost the federal budget, how much revenue it would raise to offset that cost, and how many people it would cover. As with anything that involves the Senate, timelines can and will vary, but the CBO is expected to have its score by the end of this week or early next week.

As soon as the CBO delivers its score, the bill will move to the floor of the Senate. There, it will face a vote on the "motion to proceed." All the motion to proceed does is open the debate about the bill. However, in order to pass, the motion to proceed will require 60 votes. So, sometime next week, Senators will be asked if they believe the Senate should simply begin talking about the health care bill. If 60 of them agree, the bill will have passed its first 60-vote hurdle and debate will begin.

The bill may have to be read aloud on the Senate floor. Typically, motions to read the bill are waived by unanimous consent. However, Senator Tom Coburn, Dr. No, may object, removing unanimous consent and forcing either 60 votes to waive the reading of the bill, or an actual reading of the bill on the Senate floor.

After debate is opened and, perhaps, the bill is read, amendments will be filed and considered. Amendments may have to be read on the Senate floor, depending on how the procedure plays out. Senators then may force a 60 vote cloture motion to cut off debate on some or all amendments, then a simple majority vote will be needed to pass them and add them to the Senate bill.

After amendments are considered and voted on, a cloture motion will be filed to cut off debate on the bill. Senators will be asked if they have talked about this health care bill enough, and if they are ready to proceed with a final vote on passage. 60 votes will be needed on the procedural cloture vote to cut off debate. From there, the final bill is considered, where it will need a simple majority, 51 Senators voting YES, to pass.

As noted above, Senate procedure is a weird and wild thing. Rules can be waived or added, things can happen concurrently or in order. It is tough to predict how the process will play out and how long it might take. However, Majority Leader Reid is looking to get a bill by Christmas, keeping the Senate in session on Saturdays if necessary to do it. And there will be intense pressure on Senators to move the process forward, especially on procedural votes to start and end debate.

Once the Senate has passed their bill, it will join the House bill to be merged in "conference." But for now, the Senate is where health care’s fate will play out, with the action starting next week.

For more information, take a look at Jon Cohn over at The New Republic.

(also posted at the NOW! blog)

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