February 6, 2023

WASHINGTON — Senator Joe Manchin III, the grumpy-eyed Democrat from West Virginia who brokered a climate, health and tax pact that was on a slither of traffic within hours, sat silently at his Senate chamber desk around midnight Saturday, a staring. Honestly in the middle distance he’s munching on M&Ms.

There was a victory at hand over much of the Democrats’ domestic agenda — but first, Mr. Manchin and his colleagues would have to spend an entire night, fueled by junk food and caffeine, and perhaps some alcohol and plenty of politically charged speeches, as they debated and voted on a quick series of ill-advised amendments. binding.

Voting in rama (yes, it’s actually called that), a familiar but hated ritual for the 80s and olds who make up the Senate, began late Saturday night and extended into Sunday morning. It was a last chance for Republicans to try to derail the Democrats’ top legislative priority — or at least launch political attacks against them on their way to passing — and a test of Democrats’ resolve to maintain their delicate compromise.

It was also the ultimate display of Senate weirdness and dysfunction—a time-consuming exercise that has little effect on politics but keeps senators up all night, ending only when they run out of strength to make further amendments. They were still mid-morning on a Sunday about 12 hours later, with no firm indication of when they might be finished.

“Do you know how much I will miss voting in Rama?” Senator Patrick J. Tommy, a Pennsylvania Republican who will retire this year. “The answer is not at all.”

The Rama vote is part of a murky process known as reconciliation that Democrats are using to speed up the climate, energy and tax package through Congress. It protects some budgetary legislation from obstruction, allowing it to pass by a simple majority instead of the 60 regular votes needed to avoid Republican obstruction.

But it also allows any senator to make any proposal to change the legislation when it reaches the chamber. And that brings up all sorts of political point-ups — in this case, just a few months before the midterm elections.

In anticipation of the plays, senators stocked their offices with blankets, snacks, and energy drinks. Containers of takeout food can be spotted all over the Capitol aisles on Saturday night. By 8 a.m. Sunday, more than eight hours after it began, the senators had reclined their seats and Senator Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, yawned and rubbed his eyes.

This was the current Congress’s fourth vote, with all previous episodes receiving about 40 votes. This time as in the past, Democrats held together to fend off Republicans’ efforts to torpedo their bill, defeating the amendments along partisan lines.

It included an effort to cut funding for the Internal Revenue Service and the Environmental Protection Agency. Republican senators have also tried and failed to add oil and gas lease sales in certain states.

In an effort to pressure Democrats on an issue with political influence, Republicans were forced to vote for a tax on gas and energy companies, which they said could push the country into recession and raise prices at the pump.

The Republicans succeeded in making one change to the bill, imposing a clause that would have capped insulin prices at $35 a month. Democrats left it in the legislation even amid concerns it might violate the reconciliation rules, effectively leading Republicans to demand the repeal of a popular measure and register to vote to do so. (This measure left the lid intact for Medicare patients, millions of whom have diabetes and can still benefit from it.)

Members of the Democratic Gathering also used this process to make political points. Senator Bernie Sanders, 80, chair of Vermont’s Independent Budget Committee, made several proposals overnight to express his disappointment about how much the bill would be cut.

“This may actually be the last time in a long time that people will have a chance to vote” on progressive issues, Sanders said Sunday morning at about 8:30, his eyes burning after a sleepless night.

But Democrats were determined to resist the temptation to change the legislation even slightly, fearful of losing the collective support of their bloc for a shaky compromise.

“This amendment is so balanced that any amendment, even a ‘good’ one, risks upsetting the balance — so we look forward to a lot of ‘no’ votes on things we normally want,” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, explained. In a post on Twitter.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic added another element of risk to the session, as the 100 Senators – the oldest chapter in modern history – have gathered for hours on end to cast their votes in an enclosed space. With a minimal margin of control in the Senate of 50-50, Democrats cannot afford even one disease that could deprive them of their majority.

Noting that the event created the ideal conditions for a super-pioneer, said Kirsten Coleman, associate research professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health.

She added, “I would be especially careful because there is an older age group, which is more likely to have a more serious disease if they contract Covid.”

Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas, questioned aloud whether Democrats chose not to test for Covid to avoid jeopardizing their bill, saying doing so for a voting marathon could jeopardize “not just each other, but staff, Capitol Police, and the staff of the Capitol Police.” The janitorial, food service workers and countless other people who keep this establishment running.”

Senator Dianne Feinstein, 89, said she wasn’t particularly worried, as she was planning to wear masks and take precautions. She added that she was testing in the lead-up to the weekend.

“I’m not afraid of it. We’re doing our best,” Ms. Feinstein said.

Senator Brian Schatz, Democrat of Hawaii, said he resumed wearing N-95 masks last week because he “didn’t want to get Covid and blow it up.”

However, business continued as usual as most of the unmasked lawmakers gathered on the Senate floor rather than sequestered in their personal offices, as many did in the Rams vote last year.

A Rama vote has returned Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, 82, a Democrat to the Capitol for the first time since hip surgery last month. An aide escorted the senator, who serves as interim president, across the Capitol in a wheelchair shaped like a Batman.

Senators prepared for the long evening as they usually do to vote at ramas: naps and stock their offices with comfort foods and other things.

Senator Ben Sassi, Republican of Nebraska, said of Senate floor He had covered his eyes for two hours before the fast-paced voting began.

Mrs. Feinstein said she had bars in Mounds and soft drinks ready; Senator Tina Smith, Democrat of Minnesota, kept her beloved fireballs in her bag for easy access; and Senator Bob Casey, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, stockpiled cotton candy and hot tamales, a product of his state, for his employees to enjoy.

Mr. Schatz supplied his office with extra battery packs for his mobile phone, a cap, drinks and “a little booze,” he said.

Emily Cochran Contribute to the preparation of reports.

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