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CRS Report Shows Most Bills Subject to Cloture Pass

A new study of Senate voting patterns shows the chamber has approved more than 97 percent of all bills subject to a cloture motion to begin debate — a finding that could undercut Democratic efforts to paint a key health care vote on Saturday as procedural.According to a new Congressional Research Service report, since 1999 the Senate has approved 97.6 percent of all bills when lawmakers first voted to begin debate.Under Senate rules, debate on a bill cannot begin unless there is a motion to do so. Unless all 100 Members agree to begin debate, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) must first file for cloture on the motion to move to the bill — a vote that requires at least 60 votes.According to CRS, between 1999 and 2008 there were 41 times when lawmakers first voted for a cloture motion to begin debate, and the Senate ultimately passed the bill on 40 occasions. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), one of the lead opponents of the Democratic-led health care reform effort, requested the report.While technically a procedural vote, the minority party has used the 60-vote threshold over the years as a way to block legislation they dislike. More significantly, these sorts of votes have figured heavily in election fights, most famously when Republicans accused Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) of flip flopping during his 2004 presidential campaign after he tried to explain how through a procedural motion he had voted for a supplemental appropriations bill before he voted against it.In the health care reform debate, with Reid struggling to find 60 votes in support of the actual bill, he has sought to assure his Members that the vote is simply a procedural vote that will simply allow them to begin the debate — and that it will not lock them into a final yes vote on the underlying legislation.But Republicans have repeatedly argued that Saturday’s vote to begin debate is tantamount to voting for the bill. GOP operatives have vowed that if wavering moderate Democrats Sens. Ben Nelson (Neb.), Mary Landrieu (La.) and Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) vote for the cloture motion Saturday, they will use the vote against them. Lincoln is particularly vulnerable because she is up for re-election in 2010 and is being targeted by Republicans. All three Senators have been reluctant to say whether they are willing to vote for the cloture motion, although Democratic aides Thursday were cautiously optimistic that they would be able to muster the 60 votes needed.Democrats dismissed the report, saying that while the approval rate may appear high, Republicans have repeatedly used procedural motions and other tactics to stymie debate of legislation.“If a vote for the motion to proceed should be considered a vote for the underlying bill, why are they making us jump through these unnecessary hoops of holding them?— Reid spokesman Jim Manley said Wednesday. “If it’s all the same to them, let’s just go straight to an up-or-down vote on the bill itself. Anything else is a waste of time.—

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