Live feed from the Senate floor CR debate: “What’s happening? Do you know?”

by Sarah Binder on March 18, 2013 · 8 comments

in Legislative Politics,Senate procedure

Political scientists have been nervous about a move by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) to defund the political science program at NSF.  This evening’s events on the Senate floor drive home (yet again) how hard it is to get anything done in the Senate.  Coburn could only offer his amendment to the Continuing Resolution (which includes funding for NSF) if Majority Leader Harry Reid could secure the consent of all of his colleagues for an agreement to limit the number of amendments on the CR.  (There were 146 pending amendments; Reid was not about to allow debates and recorded votes on all of them…)  Reid proposed an agreement, which allowed for nine votes on pending amendments. Four of Coburn’s amendments were included in the agreement, including a “modified” version of his amendment to kill NSF funding of political science research.    (Note: Each of the amendments would have required sixty votes to pass, if I heard Reid correctly.)

Things were looking up for Coburn (and down for political science funding) until Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) came to the floor to object that her particular defense amendment had not been included in the agreement.  And then, not to be outdone, Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) rose to note that if Ayotte had not beat him to the punch, he would have objected to the agreement since it failed to allow for a vote on his own amendment that would have protected funding for air traffic control towers from sequestration.  (“Victory” has a thousand fathers/mothers?)

What then?  Reid had previously filed cloture on the bipartisan Mikulski-Shelby alternative CR to the House CR.  With cloture just invoked, the Senate will now presumably proceed to vote—after thirty hours potentially—  on the Senate appropriators’ compromise, which would (roughly) afford some domestic departments and agencies flexibility under sequestration (in contrast to the House CR which protected only defense programs).  And then thirty hours more if cloture is needed on the amended House CR …before a final passage vote….

Always risky to live blog the Senate floor. But suffice it to say, the past hour’s events on the Senate floor drive home:
—The near impossible task Harry Reid faces in herding cats, particularly the Republican ones.
—The dysfunction of the Senate appropriations process.  Individual senators’ unwillingness to consent to a bipartisan agreement leaves all senators’ with less opportunity to influence the course of federal spending.  (We can’t blame this one on a recalcitrant House.)
—Political science funding may yet live for another day (or least for the remaining six months of the current fiscal year).

I might be jumping the gun on concluding that there will not be a vote to defund political science.  But the difficulties individual senators face in securing floor votes on their agendas—coupled with the difficulties the majority leader faces in trying to make the Senate function—drive home how tortuous daily life in the Senate continues to be.

{ 8 comments }

Brian Humes March 18, 2013 at 7:16 pm

As an interested bystander, I am a little confused. I thought that amendments could still be considered as long as they are germane and submitted in writing before the cloture vote took place. In this case, it would seem that the Coburn amendment might still be allowed as long as it is considered germane.

Sarah March 18, 2013 at 11:31 pm

Hi Brian,
Yes, technically you are correct: Germane amendments (if they’ve already been filed) are in order post-cloture. But without an agreement on *which* of the dozens of (germane) amendments can be offered, it’s not clear yet whether any senators will secure votes on their amendments post-cloture on Tuesday. That unfortunately probably won’t be clear until the Senate comes back into session tomorrow. So, yes, unfortunately it’s not yet possible to rule out consideration of Coburn’s amendment.

Nadia Hassan March 19, 2013 at 1:48 am

Is there a 60 vote threshold for the remaining amendments to be debated or do we not know?

Howard Silver March 18, 2013 at 8:06 pm

Also Coburn’s original amendment has been ‘modified.” We still haven’t seen the language however. Earlier in the day there was some talk of having the NSF director certify that political science grants were in the national security and economic interest of the U.S.

Also if we survive Coburn, we will soon have to deal with the House Majority Leader.

Nadia Hassan March 18, 2013 at 8:54 pm

Which underscores the need for ongoing advocacy.

Darrell Donakowski March 19, 2013 at 12:55 am

Does anyone know how to access the modified wording of the Coburn Amendment?

Also, am I correct in the thought that the House version did not include language taking away funding for Political Science from the NSF? If so, and the Coburn amendment (in what ever form) is voted down, can it be resurrected in any reconciliation between what passed in the House and would pass in the Senate?

Steve Smith March 19, 2013 at 1:21 pm

To fill in the details a little, Reid can fill the amendment tree in post-cloture debate. That gives him control over which amendments are considered. I assume that he will try to accommodate a few Republican amendments at the request of Shelby, who has been instrumental to moving the bill along, but Mikulski will have a lot to say about this. Coburn might modify his amendment to make it more palatable, but his political science amendment surely is a low priority for Republicans.

Scott Monje March 19, 2013 at 3:31 pm

“. . . but his political science amendment surely is a low priority for Republicans.”

And yet when they had to trim down from 146 amendments to 9, that’s what they went with. That’s what stuns me. (Or is it just easier because slashing political science funding doesn’t cross any significant interest groups?)

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