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Payroll Tax/UI Bill Passes the House; Senate Vote Will Not Face a Filibuster

The House passed the payroll tax/UI/doc fix bill this morning by a count of 293-132. 91 Republicans and 41 Democrats voted against the bill, but the combination of Democrats and Republicans in support were more than enough to carry the bill across the line. Republicans voting against it were mostly hardliners philosophically opposed to things like unemployment insurance and newly exercised about tax cuts for working families, particularly without an offset. Democrats voting no opposed some of the pay-fors – particularly the increase in pension contributions for new federal employees, and cuts to health care programs – and the reduction of weeks of eligibility for unemployment benefits. But despite this, the bill got across the line.

I’m more interested in the little deal cooked up in the Senate to ensure passage:

The Senate is expected to take up the agreement later Friday. Though aides expect it to pass, they also predict significant Republican opposition, reflecting the GOP’s underlying opposition to the payroll tax cut as policy, and the fact that the party’s negotiators were frozen out — or claim they were frozen out — of the discussions. To accommodate those objections, Senate leaders agreed in a last-minute development that the conference report would be immunized from a filibuster — meaning it can pass with a simple majority.

I see. So the filibuster is a massive problem, because everybody knows you need 60 votes to get anything done in the Senate – until you don’t.

That said, there could be at least some problems corralling 50 votes on this. Republicans in the Senate for some reason think they were shut out of the negotiations, even though their conferees sat in on all of them. Democrats in the Senate have the same objections as their counterparts in the House, with the budget cut issues. Bernie Sanders thinks the cuts to the payroll tax will threaten Social Security down the road, because the rhetorical case can be made that the general fund is paying for some of it, so he’s a no.

But the fix is really in here, with the agreement to require just 50 for passage. I’m sure it will get by with just enough votes. And then Democrats can go on and carp about how the filibuster stops everything from happening in the Senate. The truth is that the rules are only rules until it’s in everyone’s interest to pass something. Then those supposedly ironclad rules are suspended, and while Republicans and some Democrats will yell and scream about the particulars, the legislation will get done. Let this be a lesson to everyone that “procedural hurdles” are merely suggestive in most cases.

…The Senate approved the bill 60-36, so they didn’t actually need the provision making it an up-or-down vote, as they were able to find 60. The bill now goes to the President for his signature.

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Payroll Tax/UI Bill Passes the House; Senate Vote Did Not Face a Filibuster

David Dayen

David Dayen