This vote was on bringing debate to a close on a bill that would fund the departments of Commerce and Justice and science agencies such as NASA in fiscal 2010.
If the Senate votes to “invoke cloture” 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 senators.
In this case, cloture was filed because the bill had been held up by David Vitter, R-La., and Robert Bennett, R-Utah, because they wanted the chance to offer an amendment that the Democratic leadership prevented them from offering on the floor. An earlier attempt at closing debate on this bill failed by three votes (see vote 320). Specifically, Vitter and Bennett wanted to be able to offer an amendment that would have required the Census Bureau to include a question on the 2010 census form inquiring about peoples’ immigration status.
The amendment itself doesn’t mention how the information would be used, but Vitter and Bennett said they wanted to have the Census Bureau exclude counts of illegal immigrants in the next round of congressional redistricting, which determines how many seats in the House of Representatives that each state receives.
‘This is a significant issue for many States, including my State of Louisiana. It has a very big and direct and concrete impact on Louisiana and certain other States. It comes down to this: If the census is done next year and reapportionment happens using everybody—citizens and noncitizens—Louisiana is going to lose a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. We will lose one-seventh of our standing there, our representation there, our clout. If the census was done and only the number of citizens was used to determine reapportionment, Louisiana would not lose that House seat. We would retain seven seats. So that has a very big and direct impact on my State of Louisiana,” Vitter said.
Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said the time to have a debate over census questions was in 2007, when the Census Bureau submitted its questionnaire to Congress for comments.
“It did not come by stealth in the night, it was not written in invisible ink, it was written in English here for all to see—and also in other languages we could test and use—to say: Do you, Congress, like this questionnaire? Do you have any comments? For all those who want to stand up, that was the time to do it and the time to make a change,” Mikulski said.
By a vote of 60-39, the Senate agreed to bring debate to a close. Every Democrat present voted to bring debate to a close. Every Republican present voted against bringing debate to a close. The end result is that the Senate brought debate to a close on the fiscal 2010 spending bill that funds the departments of Commerce and Justice, and in so doing closed off the possibility of Vitter offering his census amendment.