WASHINGTON – Step aside, stately Senate. Say hello to vote-a-rama.
On Friday, the usually lonely floor of the U.S. Senate was thrown open for that most rare of occurrences – a free-for-all frenzy of amendment-making, which is required for the annual budget process.
Think of it as a lollapalooza of legislating: Senators taking to the floor, one after another, in rapid-fire fashion to present their priority issues and then call for a vote.
The end will arrive only when the senators have nothing left to say.
Understandably, the Capitol was prepared for a long night.
“My colleagues should know that we currently have hundreds of amendments filed, which would take days to get through,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the chairwoman of the Budget Committee, as she opened debate Friday. “We will continue making sure that every senator is treated fairly when it comes to getting a fair hearing and votes.”
With the House having passed its austere GOP budget on Thursday, it’s now the Senate’s turn as the chamber considers its own 10-year blueprint – a Democratic proposal that will increase taxes on corporations and the wealthy, and invest more in infrastructure, while pushing down deficits.
Neither the House nor the Senate budgets carry the force of law, but the competing proposals will serve as calling cards in the continued talks with President Obama over a deficit-reduction plan.
Senators have assembled a vast array of amendments – Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a deficit hawk, had 23 ready – even before vote-a-rama began.
Earlier on Thursday, senators rejected some amendments.
They tossed aside the House GOP budget from Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, which calls for deep cuts to the social safety net, including Medicare, to achieve balance in 10 years. Five GOP senators defected on their party’s defining document.
Senators also tanked a proposal that would require budgets to balance, largely voting along party lines.
Not surprisingly, by Friday morning, several GOP ideas for defunding Obama’s signature domestic achievement, the new healthcare law, fell by the wayside on party line votes. Democrats were busy Friday celebrating the third anniversary of the law’s passage.
Women’s issues benefited from the day’s events, as Republicans showed little interest in fighting Democratic proposals to ensure equal pay and reproductive care. Both were approved.
In the end, the votes will amount to little more than messaging tools – and to provide fodder for campaigns targeting senators up for reelection. For that purpose, the day’s action will be priceless.
One outcome, though, will be guaranteed: A paycheck.
Failure to approve budgets this year would have suspended lawmakers’ salaries, according to a provision slipped into law earlier this year by House Republicans who successfully goaded recalcitrant Democratic senators into presenting their own budget proposal.
At $174,000 a year, Friday they may have earned their pay.