This vote was on whether to waive a procedural objection raised against an amendment offered by Ben Nelson, D-Neb. and Susan Collins, R-Maine. The amendment was to a bill that is intended to help stimulate the flagging U.S. economy with a $900 billion cash infusion.
The amendment in question contained the text of a compromise reached between the Democratic and Republican leadership in the Senate. It would slightly lower the bill’s total to $838 billion for tax cuts and additional spending to stimulate the economy. It also would expand certain types of tax depreciations, increase unemployment benefits (particularly in states with very high unemployment rates), expand the homeownership tax credit by up to $15,000 and temporarily increase the amount of federal reimbursement paid to states for Medicaid payments by $87 billion.
“I do not believe we can continue to spend such large sums of money without knowing that the money is well spent, without having the kind of oversight and hearings we need. We are rushing programs through in great numbers,” Sessions said.
Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., raised what is known as a "point of order" against the amendment. A "point of order" is a procedural motion senators may bring up when they feel a bill, amendment or other motion violates certain rules set out by Congress to govern itself. Unless senators vote to waive those rules – which usually takes 60 votes, a large margin in the Senate -- the bill, amendment or motion in question can be killed by the point of order. Sessions raised a point of order against the bill that it violates the rule prohibiting any legislation from raising the deficit. Baucus then made a motion that the rule be waived in this case, which is what this vote was on.
“Since this recession began, 3.6 million mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers, wives and husbands have lost their jobs. On the Senate floor today, we have the power to keep 3 to 4 million more Americans from losing their jobs. We have crafted this bill to accomplish this end,” Baucus said. “The question is merely whether we will act. Our duty is clear. Let us reject half measures. Let us reject delay. Let us not be found on the wrong side of history. Let us rise to the economic challenge of our generation. Let us preserve millions of American jobs and let us pass this bill today.”
By a vote of 61-37, the Senate adopted the motion. Every Democrat present voted for the motion. All but three Republicans present voted against the motion (Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania). The end result is that the motion to waive the rules against deficit spending was adopted, and the Senate proceeded to a final vote on the bill (see vote 61).