The U.S. legislative process is like hurdling in track and field. No matter how fast a bill (or runner) wants to go, it has to clear many hurdles before it can become law (or cross the finish line … you see where this simile is going).
But in Congress, some hurdles are much taller than others — although that might make things more interesting in the Olympics.
The vote gun control legislation received to move forward in the Senate Thursday was, indeed, an enormous hurdle. Senators voted 68 to 31 to proceed with debate and amending the bill, marking the first time in two decades that the upper house of Congress will consider such legislation.
It’s just that, for those hoping it crosses the finish line quickly, an awful lot of hurdles — big and small — stand in its way.
Thursday’s moment is a big deal, even if it doesn’t lead to enactment of legislation. Bill supporters needed 60 votes to bypass a filibuster, meaning a good number of Republicans had to agree. In fact, 16 Republicans joined 52 Democrats in the vote, including prominent names like Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
Any amendment proposed to add to the bill now only requires a majority vote to pass, as does the bill itself to move out of the Senate. But from there, the prognosis gets sticky.
To end debate on the gun control bill and move to a vote, the Senate will likely again need 60 votes to prevent a filibuster. There’s also the possibility of a talking filibuster like the one led by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) last month. The latter wouldn’t amount to much more than an annoyance, but the former could essentially kill the legislation.
And before it even gets to that, in the amendment phase, proposals aren’t limited to those that support the intention of the legislation. So for each amendment we see relating to background checks and bans on assault weapons, we could see pro-gun rights proposals that could poison and sink the bill.
It’s not inconceivable to see enough Democrats join Republicans to pass amendments, seeing as Sens. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska) voted against Thursday’s resolution, and others face tough reelection races in traditionally conservative states. For more on how Senators voted and reacted, check out coverage from the Washington Post and New York Times.
Then there’s that whole bicameralism thing set out by the Constitution. Even if it clears every Senate hurdle, the gun control legislation moves to the House and starts the process over. It probably doesn’t have the best chance with the House’s Republican majority.
So, yeah. Considering how big of a moment it is that it even got to this point in the Senate, don’t go making bets that gun control reform will reach President Obama’s desk.