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Road Map: Magic Number Fluid on GOP Amendments

How many votes on Republican amendments does it take before Senate GOP centrists screw up enough courage to vote for a bill?

It’s a trick question. If we’re talking about the omnibus spending bill now on the Senate floor, it’s 24. On the economic stimulus, it was 21. For children’s health care, 13.

So, forget about 60.

For Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) the magic number is quickly becoming, not the number of votes necessary to overcome filibusters, but whatever number of amendments Senate Republicans decide is enough to finally make them comfortable letting the legislation pass. In a word, Republicans say that number constitutes what’s “reasonable,” which clearly is in the eye of the beholder.

“We’re still in the you’ll-know-it-when-you-see-it category, but based on the past couple of weeks, [20 or more] seems to be the number,” Reid spokesman Jim Manley said.

However you slice it, the people who appear to be in control of that “reasonable” number are Senate GOP moderates and dealmakers who seem to want much of the chamber’s agenda to pass but don’t want to run afoul of their more conservative colleagues who have been trying futilely to bring those bills down.

But Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) didn’t seem very grateful that GOP omnibus supporters forced an extended debate so that he and other conservatives could continue attacking it.

“Over $400 billion with over 9,000 earmarks they wanted to rush through last week,” DeMint said on the Senate floor Monday. “But because of people back home, some were shamed into saying they couldn’t vote for it unless we had a longer process with more amendments.”

DeMint didn’t give his own leadership any credit for begging the six or more GOP omnibus supporters last week to deny Democrats the 60th vote they needed to overcome a threatened GOP filibuster, but Democrats did.

“The Republican leadership put the screws on their own Members to make getting more amendments voted on a party position,” complained one senior Senate Democratic aide. “Democrats were attempting to have an open amendment process that would allow Republicans the amendment votes they needed to vote ‘yes’ on the bill, but it would have been helpful to know that list or that number on Tuesday rather than on Thursday.”

Indeed, Democrats allowed 12 GOP amendment votes on the omnibus last week, but were told Thursday — moments before calling a vote to pass the bill — that Republicans needed eight to 10 more amendments before those in the party who support the bill would be wiling to vote for it. The GOP ended up getting 13 additional amendment votes for this week.

But it’s not as if the people withholding their “aye” votes are the same ones offering amendments.

GOP centrists such as Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine) have not offered any amendments on the Senate floor, even as they condition their willingness to help Democrats win tough votes on the ability of their colleagues to offer more proposals.

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