Does Corker Really Want a Vote?

Bob Corker, R-Tenn., has renewed his effort to force a vote on a proposal to limit the ability of President Trump to impose tariffs unilaterally. According to reports, he and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., plan to offer an amendment as early as this week during the Senate’s consideration of the Farm Bill (HR 2). And even if their colleagues try to block them from doing so, Corker and Toomey can always ignore them and offer their amendment anyway. Offering a so-called third-degree amendment in this situation would guarantee an eventual vote in relation to the Corker-Toomey amendment.

Significantly, Toomey has used this tactic in the past. In January 2014, he offered a third-degree amendment to legislation extending emergency unemployment benefits (S. 1845). The amendment tree had been filled and, as a result, members were not allowed to offer their own amendments on the Senate floor. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., had previously moved to table the blocker amendment in the tree that then-Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was using to control the process so that senators could offer their own proposals to the legislation. (The Democrats easily defeated Ayotte’s effort on a 42-54 vote.) Toomey then subsequently ignored the blocker amendment and offered an amendment directly to the legislation instead of moving to table the tree. When the Presiding Officer ruled that the amendment was not in order pursuant to the Senate’s past practice (not rules), Toomey appealed. (Note: the Toomey amendment would have prohibited people with annual incomes greater than $1 million from receiving unemployment benefits.)

In contrast to how it handled the Ayotte motion to table, the Democratic majority pulled the legislation from the Senate floor before adjudicating Toomey’s appeal of the Presiding Officer’s ruling that his amendment was not in order under the Senate’s precedents. Despite their previous unwillingness to allow a vote on the amendment, the majority ultimately included the text of the amendment in the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Act of 2014 (HR 3979), which eventually passed the Senate in April 2014.

This episode suggests that threatening to offer (or actually offering) a third-degree amendment can be used as leverage to secure policy concessions in negotiations.