This vote was on an attempt to bring debate on a bill to a close (known as a “cloture motion” in the Senate).
The bill in question is intended to attract more tourists to the United States. Between 2000 and 2008, visitors to the U.S. have decreased by 3 percent, even while international tourism has gone up. This is due in part to heightened security and greater customs hurdles put into place as a result of the 9/11 attacks. The bill would create a new agency for travel promotion, funded with $10 visa waiver fee on international visitors.
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 is concerned that consideration could be held up indefinitely by a handful of politicians.
The bill had been held up for some time by Republicans who were dissatisfied not over the content of the bill itself, but because they said they had been restricted from offering amendments, mostly having to do with modifying the terms of the recently enacted economic stimulus bill.
Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., called Democrats’ cutting off non-related amendments the “tyranny of the majority.”
“There have been some amendments I really didn’t want to vote on, including some offered by people on my side of the aisle, but that is what we do in the Senate. So why are we doing this? Why are we saying suddenly, no amendments? Let’s continue to debate. Let’s continue to amend. A vote yes [on cloture] is a vote to obstruct. A vote no is to continue to debate and continue to amend,” Alexander said.
Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said Democrats tried to reach a deal with Republicans for amendments on both sides, but Republicans only wanted to offer their own amendments, all of which weren’t related to the travel bill.
“I do not understand how we have gotten to a point on a piece of legislation that should be so noncontroversial … a bill that deals with travel and promotion of travel and tourism, that we now have this unbelievable impasse,” Dorgan said. “Then we were going on this merry-go-round last Thursday and Friday with an absurd proposition that the minority wants to decide what amendments the majority can have, despite the fact that the majority says: You can have whatever amendments you want. They must have missed the last couple of elections. They apparently think they run the Senate.”
By a vote of 53-34, the motion was rejected. Though more voted yes than no, this particular type of motion must have 60 votes in order to be considered passed. All but one Democrat present voted for the motion. All but two Republicans present voted against the motion. The end result is that the motion to bring debate to a close on a travel promotion bill failed, and the Senate continued debate.