The Senate passed Majority Leader Harry Reids bill, 51-48, after reaching a deal to allow simple majority votes for both Republican and Democratic plans to extend the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush.
When the House believes the Senate is undermining its constitutional prerogative to start the process of writing tax law, the chamber’s leadership may send the bill back to the Senate with a “blue slip” attached. Alternatively, the House may just sit on the bill.
That’s what happened with the Senate version of the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization.
In that case, the Senate passed the bipartisan bill with visa fee language that House tax writers determined was an unconstitutional tax.
House Republicans have repeatedly cited the blue slip issue as the reason for delay in negotiations on the final package, but the Senate version of the VAWA reauthorization also provides new domestic violence protections for Native American tribes, illegal immigrants and the LGBT community.
Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) last month signed a joint letter with Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to Speaker John Boehner encouraging him to call up the Senate’s bill.
Michael Steel, a spokesman for the Ohio Republican, has told reporters that the Senate should be the side of the Capitol to act first on a revised bill without the language that exposed the bill to a blue slip.
Leahy, Conference Secretary Patty Murray (Wash.) and other Democrats say the House GOP is hiding behind the constitutional explanation.
“House Republicans don’t want to talk about the fact that they are denying vulnerable communities of women the protections that the Senate VAWA bill includes,” Murray said. “So they have ducked and covered under a blue slip argument that they know has been routinely overcome. It’s a convenient argument, but they only seem to use it when it’s convenient for them.”
“The Speaker’s hands are not tied on this matter. He is choosing to hold up this bill and those efforts must stop,” Leahy said.
In fact, when lawmakers want to work around the pesky blue slips, they do. Earlier this year, the Senate passed a highway bill that would have had no chance of passing constitutional muster, because it reauthorized fuel taxes.
Nonetheless, Senators agreed by unanimous consent to insert the text into a House-passed transportation bill and set up a conference, averting a procedural standoff like the one they face on the VAWA reauthorization.
Both parties have used the blue slip workarounds to advance legislation they favor.
The House used the maneuver in 2009 under then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to grease the wheels for tourism promotion legislation that was a top priority of Reid.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.