The U.S. Senate is spending Friday night in a marathon voting session known as a vote-a-rama.
It’s a procedural gauntlet Democrats have to endure to get their $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill passed with only 51 votes, instead of the 60 votes typically required.
Any Senator can propose an amendment and call for a vote as part of the budget reconciliation process. And some Republican senators have promised to draw out this vote-a-rama, to underline their opposition to the bill.
Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, who asked that Senate clerks read the entire bill out loud Thursday night, said he had 100 amendments drafted and was organizing shifts of GOP senators in the hopes of keeping the process going for as long as possible.
“The delay, I think, is intended more to cause frustration among Democrats than it really is to delay the final bill,” Sen. John Hickenlooper said. “I think they recognize there is a resolve to provide relief to people who have lost so much.”
Colorado’s junior senator expects frustration and exhaustion to increase as the process grinds on, but said “it’s nothing compared to what so many of our citizens are feeling. People have been out of work for a year.”
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But, in a funny way, Hickenlooper said he is looking forward to the long night, or even possibly (but hopefully not) the long weekend. The last time the Senate went through this, on the vote starting the reconciliation process for the relief package, Hickenlooper said he got to see other sides of his colleagues.
“I did feel like I had a different appreciation for a number of different senators. I observed and saw them act in ways that reflected who they were, their core values,” he said.
And he added the progress the Senate needs to make to tackle the nation’s problems “will depend on us understanding each other better.”
The last vote-a-rama in early February lasted for about 15 hours, with more than 40 amendments voted on.
This one got off to a slow start. For hours, work in the Senate has ground to a halt as Democrats try to keep all their members on board with a Democratic amendment on extending unemployment insurance.
“I had an extra cup of coffee this morning, but now that we haven’t started, I’m wishing I had a third,” Hickenlooper said.