This was a vote ending debate (known as a “cloture motion”) on a motion to bring up legislation (known as a “motion to proceed”) that would have provided a one-time payment of $250 to senior citizens and disabled veterans. Proponents of the bill argued such a payment was necessary because Social Security beneficiaries were not scheduled to receive a cost-of-living increase in their Social Security checks in 2011.
A cloture motion is a procedure by which the Senate can vote to end, or to place a time limit on, debate of a bill, and thereby overcome a filibuster. In addition, at least 60 senators must vote in favor of a cloture motion in order for it to pass. (This cloture vote was not on the bill itself, but rather on the motion to begin debate on the bill.)
Cost of living adjustments (COLAs) for Social Security beneficiaries are determined by a formula that increases payments when the cost of everyday expenses rises. According to this formula, the cost of living did not increase in 2010. Therefore, Social Security beneficiaries were not scheduled to receive a COLA in 2011. Democrats brought this bill up for a vote, arguing that denying seniors increased financial assistance in deep recession could harm their quality of life.
Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) praised the underlying legislation: “…On October 15, 2010, we learned that next year Social Security beneficiaries will not receive a cost of living adjustment for the second year in a row because of the economic deflation, rather than inflation, our economy experienced in 2010. At a time when the economy continues to lag and seniors in Vermont and around the country will struggle to afford heat, food, and other daily living expenses, I believe strongly that Congress needs to act to help seniors who depend upon Social Security benefits.”
No Republican senators voiced opposition to this legislation, yet all Republicans present voted against this cloture motion. Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX), however, spoke for his party in the House of Representatives during that chamber’s debate on this same legislation: “The COLA formula is designed to achieve a simple goal. Increases in consumer prices trigger an increase in Social Security benefits….Since prices have remained short of the peak they reached back in 2008, the Social Security Administration announced there will not be a COLA in 2011...Though seniors are understandably disappointed, the COLA formula is working as intended.”
While a majority of senators (53) voted in favor of this motion, at least 60 senators must vote in favor a cloture motion in order for it to pass. Since 60 senators did not vote in favor of cloture, the motion failed. The vote on this motion was 53-45. Voting “yea” were 53 Democrats. All 40 Republicans present and 5 Democrats voted “nay.” As a result, the Senate rejected a motion ending debate on another motion to bring up legislation that would have provided a one-time payment of $250 to senior citizens and disabled veterans.