This vote occurred on an attempt to bring debate on a motion to a close (known as a “cloture motion” in the Senate). If the Senate votes to “invoke cloture” – or bring debate to a close – then lawmakers must either hold a vote on the legislation, amendment or motion in question, or move on to other business. This type of motion is most often called on contentious legislation where the leadership of the majority party (in this case the Democrats) is concerned that consideration could be held up indefinitely by a handful of politicians.
The cloture motion would have had the effect of allowing the Senate to begin debating a bill that would reverse a Supreme Court decision on pay discrimination. In order to take up a bill on the Senate floor, all senators must unanimously agree to a “motion to proceed” to the piece of legislation. Republicans had objected repeatedly to allowing the motion to proceed to go forward, which would have allowed the bill to be debated on the floor. Thus, Democrats filed a motion to bring the stalling tactics to a close and have a vote on whether or not to bring the bill up on the floor.
The bill in question is intended to undo a Supreme Court decision that found that workers filing suit for pay discrimination must do so within 180 days of when the alleged discrimination took place. The case was based on a 1998 suit filed by Lilly Ledbetter, who charged that during her 19-year career at a tire company her supervisors paid her less than men doing identical work simply because of her gender. Because Ledbetter waited so long to file – basically, until the end of her career at the tire company – the Supreme Court ruled against her case as being untimely.
“We have an opportunity to go back on the right track that Republican and Democratic Presidents and Congress led us down. Let’s restore the fairness, the equity, the decency, and the humanity this Senate of the United States has gone on record with regard to equal pay for women, disabled, and the elderly in our society. Let’s do that. We have a chance to do so,” said Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.
Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said the bill does much more than what its Democratic proponents have suggested. He said it would change civil rights laws provisions from the current standard requiring a complaint to be filed within 180 days of the infraction, to 180 days from any discrimination that had an “economic effect.”
“This means that someone can work for a company for 30 years, go on retirement and pension, get a pension check, declare the 180 days just started, and file a complaint from 30 years ago,” Isakson said.
By a vote of 56-42, the Senate rejected the motion to bring debate to a close on the procedural objection and begin debating the bill itself. Though more voted yes than no, this type of vote requires a 60-vote majority for adoption. All but six Republicans present voted against the motion. All but one Democrat present voted for the motion (Harry Reid of Nevada, who voted no in order to preserve the right to call for a revote later.) The end result is that cloture was not invoked on the motion to proceed, and so the Senate could not take up a bill to amend pay discrimination laws.