D.C. Voting Rights: It’s All About Conference Now
OK, so you're worried about that gun amendment the Senate attached today to the D.C. House Voting Rights Act?
According to LL's game-planning here, you probably shouldn't be that worried. Civics lesson time, people:
First off, there's very little chance that the House version of the bill will be similarly amended. The DCHVRA will almost certainly be brought to the House floor with terms of debate and amendment set in advance. It's likely that the Democratic leadership will make sure that the voting-rights legislation is considered under a "closed rule," which would allow debate but no amendments.
When the House and Senate pass different versions of the same bill, a "conference committee" is typically appointed to sit down and hash out the differences. Compromise language is determined, which is sent back to each House for a final vote.
Once the House bill is passed, conferees would be appointed by each house. They usually include the senior members of the standing committees that reported the original bill—in this case, the House judiciary committee and the Senate homeland security and governmental affairs committee.
This is good news for the DCHVRA, especially on the Senate side, where the chair and ranking member of the reporting committee typically have broad latitude in appointing conferees. The ranking member of Senate homeland security and governmental affairs is Maine's Susan Collins, who, while a supporter of the pro-gun Ensign amendment (likely for reasons discussed below), has been a relatively resolute supporter of the DCHVRA. Sometimes dozens of conferees can be appointed—especially on big spending bills—but the DCHVRA will probably see a relatively small committee.
It's very difficult to predict what would happen at a congressional conference, but barring the appointment of a John McCain or John Ensign or Tom Coburn—unlikely to happen on this bill with a Democratic majority—it seems unlikely the gun language would survive.
And final passage, where a simple majority is required in both chambers, would probably not be a huge problem in either chamber—even without the gun language. Make no mistake, a big reason that the gun language got 62 votes is because the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun groups are likely to use such that vote in candidate ratings and as a campaign litmus test generally. A vote for the deamended bill would carry no such political consequences.