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Evaluating the Minibus Amendment Process

Evaluating the Minibus Amendment Process

The Senate’s minibus debate is winding down. On Tuesday, senators approved two amendments (Nelson Amdt. 3773 and Kennedy Amdt. 3703) by a vote of 95 to 0. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., then filed cloture on the Shelby Amdt. 3695 (the Senate minibus appropriations bill) and the underlying House-passed defense appropriations bill (HR 6157). 

Under Rule XXII of the Senate’s Standing Rules, senators will vote to end debate on the Shelby Amdt./Senate minibus appropriations bill Thursday morning. If 60 members vote to invoke cloture/end debate, the Senate will begin a period of post-cloture debate time that may last up to 30 hours. Senators will vote on the Shelby Amdt. at the end of post-cloture debate time. At that point, only a simple-majority of senators (typically 51) is needed to pass the Shelby amendment.

The cloture vote on the underlying House-passed defense appropriations bill (HR 6157) ripens immediately after the Senate votes on the Shelby Amdt. Again, if 60 members vote to invoke cloture/end debate on it, the Senate will begin a period of post-cloture debate time that may last up to 30 hours. Senators will then vote on HR 6157 (as amended by the Shelby Amdt.) at the end of any post-cloture debate time they use. And again, only a simple-majority of senators (typically 51) is needed to pass HR 6157 (as amended) at that point in the process.

If all available time is used, members would vote on the Senate minibus bill (i.e. the Shelby Amdt.) on Friday around 4:30 pm and on HR 6157 (the House-passed defense bill amended by the Senate minibus bill) on Saturday around 11:30 pm. But it is unlikely that all time will be used. The more likely scenario is that senators will schedule the required votes on the Shelby Amdt. and HR 6157 by unanimous consent for later this afternoon or early evening.

 

Not An Open Amendment Process

There was not an open amendment process on HR 6157. With the possible exception of a package of non-controversial amendments, senators are unlikely to consider any additional floor amendments to the minibus appropriations bill. Only four amendments were offered to the legislation during its consideration on the Senate floor (Menendez Amdt. 3705, Fischer Amdt. 3706, Nelson Amdt. 3773, and the Kennedy Amdt. 3703). And each of those amendments passed overwhelmingly (Menendez, Fischer amendments passed 85-0 and the Nelson, Kennedy amendments passed 95-0).

McConnell maintained control throughout the floor debate by offering a blocker amendment (McConnell Amdt. 3699) to the Senate minibus bill. The McConnell blocker amendment has remained pending throughout the minibus’s consideration. Consequently, unanimous consent was needed to set it aside temporarily so that senators could offer other amendments to the Senate minibus bill. With the blocker amendment in place, McConnell was then in a stronger vis-à-vis other senators who wanted to offer an amendment to the minibus appropriations bill. 

If McConnell refused to grant his consent to set aside the blocker amendment, the only leverage senators have left under the Senate’s current precedents is to block cloture. Doing so forces McConnell to choose between allowing a vote on the amendment in question and not passing the minibus appropriations bill. But blocking cloture is hard because it takes 41 senators to vote against ending debate on legislation that includes funding for popular programs in the departments of Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education.

 

Senate's Progress: Step-By-Step

The process by which the Senate got to this point is depicted step-by-step below.

Each branch on the amendment tree is color coded according to its status in that step.

Blue = underlying legislation to which senators offer amendments

Yellow = pending amendments

Red = branches eliminated by pending (yellow) amendments

Green = open branches

White/No Color = branches not yet available

Step 1

Senate begins debate on the House-passed defense appropriations bill

Step 2

Shelby offers Senate minibus to HR 6157.

Step 3

After the Shelby amendtment is pending, it is considered part of the underlying bill for purposes of amendment. Amendments can then be offered at branches AC, and E.

McConnell offers Amendment 3699 as a blocker amendment to better preserve order on the Senate floor.

Once pending, the McConnell amendment prevents senators from offering amendments at branches A and B on the right side of the tree.

Step 4

Two competing first-degree amendments (Menendez Amdt. 3705 and Fischer Amdt. 3706) are made pending by unanimous consent.

Step 5

Two more competing first-degree amendments (Nelson Amdt. 3773 and Kennedy Amdt. 3703) are made pending by unanimous consent.

Step 6

The McConnell blocker amendment remains pending to prevent senators from offering amendments to the Senate minibus bill without his permission.

After cloture is invoked on the Senate minibus appropriations bill (i.e. Shelby Amdt. 3695), McConnell will likely withdraw his blocker amendment, or the Senate will otherwise dispose of it.

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