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Here’s what a ‘vote-a-rama’ is (and what it means for Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget resolution)

The time-consuming and stamina-challenging process is the only remaining hurdle for Senate Democrats before the chamber can adopt the budget resolution after voting to open debate earlier Tuesday. Politically, it gives Republicans a chance to sow discord and create distractions as they force Democrats to vote on controversial issues.

If both chambers of Congress adopt the budget resolution, then Democrats could draft a sweeping legislative package to advance many of their party’s priorities — on issues from health care to immigration to climate change — that could be approved on a straight party-line vote and would not be subject to the filibuster’s 60-vote threshold.

Usually in the legislative process, lawmakers can use a series of procedural maneuvers to avoid voting on amendments. But in a budget reconciliation process — which Democrats are using to advance their sweeping package — you can’t do that.

Lawmakers cannot hold a final vote on a reconciliation bill until all the amendments have been “disposed of,” or in simpler terms, “voted on.”

The practice involves votes on a series of amendments that can — and usually do — stretch for hours.

How do lawmakers use the process?

The party in charge typically wants to move this vote-a-rama along as quickly as possible with as few votes as possible. The minority party takes the opportunity to force votes on all kinds of measures they don’t typically have the power to put on the floor.

How long does each vote take?

Usually, lawmakers agree to a process that looks a lot like this:

  • Lawmaker introduces an amendment (sometimes it is just written on a piece of paper).
  • There is a minute of debate equally divided by each side.

Each amendment takes about 15 minutes or so to get through. The process moves quickly by Senate standards, which is why it is so important for members to basically stay in or close by the chamber for the entire marathon event.

How will the vote-a-rama play out for Democrats’ reconciliation package?

These marathon voting sessions can go for hours and often all night. The amendments are not binding, but they serve as a way for each party to force the other side on the record about controversial issues. This is where future political ads are born.

Sen. John Kennedy, a Republican from Louisiana, said Tuesday that it’s possible an agreement is reached to have 10-minute votes and to finish by midnight, but he cautioned that it’s “easier said than done.”

Once senators have had enough and tire out, the Senate will vote to adopt the budget resolution. This resolution will also need to be passed by the House, which is already on recess and currently not set to return until the fall.

What’s in the reconciliation package again?

The $3.5 trillion budget resolution aims to expand education, health care and childcare support, tackle the climate crisis and make further investments in infrastructure. Here’s some of the toplines from the Budget Committee’s resolution summary:

Broader supports for families. The budget framework seeks to establish a universal Pre-K program for 3- and 4-year-olds and a new child care benefit for working families.

Expanded federal health care programs and assistance. The blueprint recommends adding dental, vision and hearing benefits to Medicare, as well as lowering the eligibility age — both longstanding goals of Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who caucuses with the Democrats.

Combats climate change. The resolution seeks to make investments aiming to meet Biden’s goals of reducing economy-wide carbon emissions by 50% and for the US power grid to get 80% of its power from emissions-free sources before 2030.

Invests more in infrastructure and jobs. The budget resolution would invest in affordable housing, Native American infrastructure, and create what Biden is calling a Civilian Climate Corporations to employ thousands of young people to work conserving public lands and waters, bolstering community resilience and advancing environmental justice.

CNN’s Tami Luhby, Katie Lobosco, Ali Zaslav and Clare Foran contributed to this report.

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