The “Nuclear Option” Must be on the Table to Pass Health Care

By Noble Johns

Washington DC (BNW) — I
f push comes to shove, the Democrats in the Senate can pass the health care bill with a simple majority. The “Nuclear Option” is a tactic that will allow the U.S. Senate to stop debate on a bill and move for a vote on the floor of the Senate, but it could disrupt the rules of the U.S. Senate and create a maelstrom among senators.

In U.S. politics, the "Nuclear Option" is an attempt by a majority of the United States Senate to end a filibuster by majority vote, as opposed to 60 senators voting to end a filibuster. Although filibuster is not provided for in the formal rules of the Senate, the procedure has been used on several occasions.

Health care reform is too important for the American people to let a bunch of racist senators from the South —who are in the pocket of the insurance industry — stop the bill. Since the Senate does not restrict the total time allowed for debate, a minority of 41 Senators can prevent a final vote, effectively defeating the bill. Thus, although a bill might have majority support of the Senate, a filibuster can stop it dead in its tracks.

The maneuver called the “Nuclear Option” was brought to prominence in 2005 when then-Majority Leader Bill Frist (Republican of Tennessee) threatened its use to end Democratic-led filibusters of judicial nominees submitted by President George W. Bush. If Sen. Frist would threatened to use the "Nuclear Option" to get a bunch of racist judges appointed, then Leader Read shouldn't give a second thought about using it for the American people — because it's on the right side of history!

In response to this threat, Democrats threatened to shut down the Senate and prevent consideration of all routine and legislative Senate business. The ultimate confrontation was prevented by the Gang of 14, a group of seven Democratic and seven Republican Senators, all of whom agreed to oppose the nuclear option and oppose filibusters of judicial nominees, except in extraordinary circumstances.

To prevent a filibuster, a motion for cloture must be passed to end debate. A three-fifths majority (60 Senators), is required to approve the cloture motion and proceed to a vote on the main issue. However, in the House of Representatives it only takes a simple majority of House members to pass a bill.

Because the Senate doesn't restrict the total time allowed for debate, instead, a motion for cloture must be passed to end debate on a bill. A three-fifths majority (60 Senators) is required to approve the cloture motion and proceed to a vote. Thus, although a bill might have majority support, a minority of 41 Senators can prevent a final vote, effectively defeating the bill by filibustering.

If the Senate passes a bill, a congressional conference committee will need to merge the House and Senate proposals into a consensus version requiring final approval from each chamber before moving to President Obama's desk to be signed into law. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's legislation broke down along strict party lines. All 58 Senate Democrats — along with independent Sens. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont — supported bringing the measure to the floor.

Thirty-nine of the 40 Senate Republicans opposed the motion. Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, didn't vote.

"Tonight's historic vote brings us one step closer to ending insurance company abuses, reining in spiraling health care costs, providing stability and security to those with health insurance and extending quality health coverage to those who lack it," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement.

The House bill is more expansive, therefore, more expensive than the Senate Finance Committee bill. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the House bill is also projected to guarantee coverage for 96 percent of Americans, and will cost more than $1 trillion over the next 10 years.

In practice, if it is clear that the motion for cloture will not carry, the bill may simply be tabled so that the Senate can conduct other business. From time to time, however, the margin of votes for cloture may be very close, and the minority may wish to stall the cloture vote for as long as possible.

Because debate time is unlimited, Senators may simply speak endlessly on the Senate floor to prevent a vote from taking place; this tactic is known as a filibuster. A formal change to the Senate's rules is even more difficult to make: Senate rule 22 says that such a change requires a two-thirds majority of those present and voting to end debate (67 votes if all senators vote).


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