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This week the Senate will hold a series of votes on Fiscal Year 2013 budget resolutions, and to do this, they will use what is called a unanimous consent agreement. This is essentially a quick “Does anyone object to this? No? Okay, let’s do this.” If one senator objects, unanimous consent cannot be used, and it needs to go to a floor vote. Sen. Dean Heller, the sponsor of the No Budget, No Pay Act (S. 1981) has asked Sens. Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell that a vote on No Budget, No Pay be included in the unanimous consent agreement that will govern debates over the budget resolutions.
Once a budget resolution have reached the floor, the Senate is allotted 50 hours of debate time. Typically, the majority and minority each get 25 hours, although unanimous consent to modify the time limit is fairly common. Amendments to the resolution are also counted within the debate time. Once the 50 hours have ended, typically, the Senate leadership will work out a unanimous consent agreement to begin a so-called “vote-a-rama,” a series of very quick votes on amendments.
The unanimous consent agreement will allow many of the amendments that did not receive a vote within the 50 hours to receive a quick vote. There is no time for debate during a vote-a-rama, simply a one-minute description by the sponsor of the amendment and a one-minute statement opposing it. The long series of fast votes is where the vote-a-rama derives its name. No Budget, No Pay also could be offered for consideration during the vote-a-rama should it not make it into the unanimous consent to bring the resolution to the floor.
After all of this, a final vote occurs. There are no filibusters allowed, since the debate is confined to 50 hours. Because of that, there is no need for the 60 votes that have become necessary to avoid a filibuster on so much legislation. A simple majority can pass a budget resolution.
For No Labels, the bottom-line is that this week’s vote on the budget resolutions is opportunity for No Budget, No Pay (H.R. 3643 in the House) to be discussed on the Senate floor, even though the bill has not been marked up by Sen. Joe Lieberman’s committee, where it had a hearing in March.