This vote was on whether or not to allow the Senate to begin debating the substance of a bill to set new energy efficiency standards. Though the bill as drafted is an energy efficiency measure, the real reason the Democratic leadership tried to call the bill up is because they wanted to use it as a vehicle upon which to attach the text of a mortgage bill that would allow judges to modify the terms of home mortgages during bankruptcy.
The mortgage bill was written to help ease the housing collapse; supporters say it could help stave off foreclosure for hundreds of thousands of homeowners who are struggling to make their mortgage payments in an increasingly weak economy.
Republicans had objected to the procedural motion that allows a bill to be called up on the Senate floor (known as a “motion to proceed”), making opening debate on the bill itself impossible. Much of the Senate’s day to day business depends on the unanimous consent of all members of the Senate in order to proceed. This makes it easy for just one person to hold up consideration of a bill, by simply withdrawing their consent for simple motions (such as in this case, where several Republicans objected to the “motion to proceed” to debating the bill).
In an effort to force the Senate to begin debating the bill itself, Democrats called a vote on bringing on this “motion to proceed” to a close. 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 bills, amendments or motions where the leadership is concerned that consideration could be held up indefinitely by a handful of politicians.
“The catalyst of this downward economic spiral is the housing crisis, and the face of this housing crisis is the historic increase in foreclosures. Therefore, in my view, any serious effort to address our economic woes must include an effort to take on the foreclosure crisis. We have to begin there. If we do not deal with that issue, then we are flirting around with disaster, in my view, and avoiding the central question. So we must do something to slow the tide of foreclosures overcoming many of our citizens, and we need to give our local officials the tools and resources to cope with the increases in foreclosed properties,” said Chris Dodd, D-Ct.
Republicans and the White House, meanwhile, say that the changes to bankruptcy law could mean lenders will anticipate these changes, and price their loans accordingly (meaning that overall borrowing costs could rise).
“There is no reason we can’t have a result here. I think all that we are saying on this side is that while the Democratic proposal may be a good start, we think it needs a lot of work. We do not, for example, want to put into law a proposal that many feel might turn home mortgages into junk bonds,” said Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.
As a compromise, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., offered to narrow the scope of the bill so that it would only apply to the most egregious adjustable rate mortgages.
By a vote of 48-46, Reid’s motion to bring debate to a close failed. All but one Republican present voted against the motion (Gordon Smith of Oregon). All but one Democrat present voted for the motion (Reid, who cast his vote in order to preserve his ability to call the measure up for a revote at some time in the future). The end result was that the motion to bring debate to a close failed, and as such the bill itself could not be called up to the floor.