This vote was on whether to bring debate to a close on an amendment to a bill intended to stimulate the U.S. economy. 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 amendment, by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., would have expanded an economic stimulus package already passed by the House. The base bill would issue tax refunds in advance of next year of $500 for an individual and $1,000 for couples. Families would receive an additional $300 for each child under 17. The package was introduced in response to a confluence of economic bad news, including the collapsing housing market, a crisis among mortgage lenders and concerns that the U.S. economy may be entering into a recession.
The amendment would have expanded the bill to allow tax refund advances for low-income seniors and veterans, tax relief for businesses and some funding for home heating assistance for low-income households.
“We have to act now, immediately. The President wants us to act now with the stimulus package. The House wants us to act now. We in the Senate have to act now; that is, we have to get some rebate checks out to the American people so they can spend those checks, those dollars, and prime the economy,” said Max Baucus, D-Mont.
But Republicans preferred a bill more limited in scope, and that included some language ensuring that illegal immigrants cannot obtain the tax advance checks. Some Republicans argued that economic stimulus will result from extending the raft of tax cuts President Bush enacted in 2001, many of which will expire soon.
“One thing we can do is create certainty about economic decisionmaking. We can extend the Bush tax cuts. We can extend them so people will continue to make positive decisions based on a tax rate they know is there rather than one they know is going to go away in 2 years, which will limit their investment,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. He also argued for lowering corporate tax rates.
The Senate failed to bring debate to a close and invoke cloture by a vote of 58-41. More voted yes than no, but this type of vote requires 60 in order to deem it passed. All but one Democrat present voted to bring debate to a close (Reid, who changed his vote at the last minute. This was done in order to take advantage of the Senate’s rules allowing someone to call for a re-vote on a bill or amendment that failed, if they’re on the winning side). All but eight Republicans present voted against bringing debate to a close. The end result was that the motion to end debate on the amendment that would expand the underlying economic stimulus bill to cover seniors and some veterans failed and the Senate continued debating the bill itself.