It was late, people were tired, but the Senate trudged on. The budget vote-a-rama began at 4 p.m. and lasted 13 hours, ending just before 5 a.m. on Saturday (well past most senators bed times). A tired-looking Angus King miscalled a voice vote and an even tireder-looking Harry Reid pulled off his glasses and rubbed his eyes while Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray argued with Sen. Jeff Sessions over how much longer this process would go on. Citing the Senate’s “elderly” members, Murray begged for senators to speed the process up or shut the whole thing down.
So just what is a vote-a-rama? It’s a procedural quirk that comes as a result of the special rules for considering a budget resolution. Unlike other bills, which can spend weeks being debated and voted on in the slow-moving Senate, a budget resolution can only be debated for 50 hours, but (and this is important) the rules also say that all amendments must be disposed of prior to a final vote. Many of these amendments are taken up and debated at length during the time for debate, but after the 20 hour time limit expires, the Senate goes into a lightning round to dispose of the remaining amendments before taking a final vote on the budget. Still don’t get it? Read THIS from the guy who coined the phrase ‘vote-a-rama.’
So now that we know what it is, why is it important? Simple – because it’s one of the only times Republicans get to put their Democratic counterparts on record under the iron-fisted leadership of Harry Reid. As Alan Ota and Niels Lesniewski report for Roll Call:
“Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and the White House have worked in tandem to shield vulnerable Senate Democrats from tough votes that could provide opponents with campaign fodder.But regardless of those concerns, the Senate this week will finish its first budget debate in four years.”
All told, more than 400 amendments were filed, 101 amendments were heard and 70 votes were taken after some were agreed to unanimously “en bloc.” Although it was a long and arduous process, the end results were revealing. Here’s just a few of the insightful looks we got into the deep divisions within the Democratic Party:
- An amendment by Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) would prevent the Senate from considering any budget that calls for new taxes while unemployment was higher than 5.5. percent. The amendment is built on the same principle that Obama laid bare in 2009 – “You don’t raise taxes in a recession.” Apparently Senate Democrats do not agree. The amendment failed in a party-line 45-54 vote.
- A bipartisan amendment offered by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) to repeal the medical device tax in Obamacare sailed through the Senate by a 79-20 vote. It’s always interesting to watch Democrats line up to vote against taxes when the votes don’t matter (amendments to a budget resolution by rule are non-binding).
“Today, bipartisan members of the Senate spoke loudly and clearly that this tax on medical devices simply must go,” Hatch said. “It is a drain on innovation, on job creation and on our ability to provide ground breaking medical technologies to patients.”
- A motion offered by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) that would have sent the budget back to committee with instructions to make it balance by 2023 was defeated on a 46-53 vote (Republicans picked up one brave Democrat – Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV)). It’s important to note that the motion to recommit said nothing about how this had to be done. It could have been achieved by tax increases, spending cuts, or some combination of the two. Nevertheless, Democrats defeated it.
“Tonight the American people witnessed a remarkable and alarming event: the Senate Democrat majority declared they do not want to balance the budget, will not balance the budget, and will oppose any effort to balance the budget in any way,” Sessions said after the vote.
- Senator Ron Johnson’s amendment (R-WI) to ensure the continued existence of Social Security and Medicare by requiring budget resolutions to prepare for the 75-year solvency of both programs failed 46-53. Apparently Democrats don’t like the idea of making the changes needed to the programs to ensure they’re still around for our generation.
There were many more important votes, certainly more than we could list here, but the Republican mission was successful: Democrats are now on record for some of their most unpopular positions. Oh, and by the end of the night the Senate also passed it’s first budget in nearly four years – no small victory for Republicans who had long been clamoring for one.
“This,” declared Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as the hour neared 5 a.m., “is one of the Senate’s finest days in recent years.”