The Senate this afternoon is hosting a little something Hill staffers are calling "Vote-A-Rama" -- a silly name for an annoying process. Brian Beutler had a good report on what this is all about.
If you tune into CSPAN-2 later today -- and why wouldn't you on a Friday evening? -- you won't be greeted by the familiar musical accompaniment to the Senate doing nothing. That's because before the Senate passes its budget this weekend, it must first get through "votearama" -- the quirk in the budget rules that essentially opens the amendment floodgates to eager lawmakers.
These amendments, like the budget itself, aren't really binding. They're highly politicized. And because there hasn't been a Senate budget in a few years, there's a huge pent up demand among members for using votearama as an opportunity to preen and take political stands.
How many amendments are we talking about here? At last count, over 400 have been filed. No, that's not a typo.
The Senate Democratic leaders still hope to limit the total number of amendments receiving votes to a few dozen, but that'll still take quite a while, and will probably delay the final vote on the Senate budget -- its first in several years -- until late tonight or early tomorrow morning.
Of course, to call this process "highly politicized" is an understatement. National Journal reported yesterday that the National Republican Senatorial Committee has "worked with Senate GOP leadership offices in recent days to craft targeted amendments." It's a striking detail -- there's not even a pretense of separating governing considerations from campaign considerations; Republicans are now literally combining the two, having campaign aides help craft legislative amendments for the sole purpose of generating fodder for 2014 attack ads.
That said, while it's unusual for the NRSC to partner with Senate Republican leaders on writing proposals, both sides relish these amendments, and how they're used tells us quite a bit about the parties' priorities.
More from Brian's report:
For instance: Last night, Senate Dems put Republicans on the spot and forced a vote on the House GOP budget. It failed, obviously, but because it's the GOP's central organizing manifesto, nearly every Republican member voted for it.
What went mostly unnoticed, though, is that Dems also forced the GOP to take a position on the single most politically contentious part of the Ryan budget -- its call to replace the Medicare guarantee with a private insurance subsidy. That amendment was written to put members on record over whether to prohibit such a dramatic policy change. And by a vote of 96-3 the Senate answered that question with a resounding "yes." Only Sens. Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and Rand Paul voted to effectively endorse Medicare privatization.
It was an interesting twist -- Senate Republicans were prepared to go on record supporting a budget plan ending Medicare, but then also voted for a Democratic amendment in opposition to the same policy.
You, too, can enjoy this kind of heart-racing action for the next several hours. It's all unfolding -- slowly -- on the Senate floor.