This vote was on bringing debate to a close (known as "invoking cloture") on a bill that would fund the departments of Commerce and Justice and science programs such as NASA in fiscal 2010.
If the Senate votes to “invoke cloture” then lawmakers must either hold a vote on the legislation, amendment or motion in question, or move on to other business. This type of motion is most often called on contentious legislation where the leadership is concerned that consideration could be held up indefinitely by a handful of politicians.
In this case, cloture was filed because the bill had been held up by David Vitter, R-La., and Robert Bennett, R-Utah, because they wanted the chance to offer an amendment that the Democratic leadership prevented them from offering on the floor.
“We have legislated on this bill for 5 days. That should be enough. The list they think is reasonable, someone should take a look at it and see how unreasonable it is. We will go ahead. We will do the regular order. We will get cloture on this bill, and we will handle the germane amendments—maybe. We don’t have to handle the germane amendments. We don’t have to deal with those. We might do that; we might not do it,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said an agreement had been reached on all but one and that he promised Democrats he would remove that one (Vitter’s amendment).
“So I don’t know why they can’t take yes for an answer. We basically had an agreement on our amendment list but for one amendment which they objected to, and we said we would take it off the list. It strikes me rather than having a spirited debate about health care and other matters, we ought to agree to the amendment list and finish the bill,” McConnell said.
Specifically, Vitter and Bennett wanted to be able to offer an amendment that would have required the Census Bureau to include a question on the 2010 census form inquiring about peoples’ immigration status.
The amendment itself doesn’t mention how the information would be used, but Vitter and Bennett said they wanted to have the Census Bureau exclude counts of illegal immigrants in the next round of congressional redistricting, which determines how many seats in the House each state receives.
By a vote of 56-38, the cloture motion was rejected. Though more voted yes than no, this particular type of vote requires 60 votes in order to be considered successful. All but one Democrat present voted for the motion (Reid, who voted with the prevailing side to preserve the right to call the measure back for a revote later). Every Republican present voted against the motion. The end result is that the motion to bring debate to a close on the fiscal 2010 Commerce-Justice-Science spending bill failed, and the Senate moved on to other matters. The measure could be brought up at a later time after lawmakers have garnered 60 votes, or it could be rolled into an “omnibus,” which combines the text of all the unfinished spending bills for the year.