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Senate Republicans on Wednesday openly mocked a Democratic nonbinding resolution on the deficit, deriding it as "cynical," "political" and even "meaningless." But behind closed doors, rank-and-file Members plotted to support open debate of the bill in order to play much the same game.
In their weekly caucus meeting, Republicans discussed whether to support the majority's push to bring up a vaguely worded Sense of the Senate resolution, which states that millionaires should make "a more meaningful contribution to the deficit reduction effort." For GOP Senators, it might be a good political hedge — voting to talk about the budget and deficit before ultimately voting against the Democratic message of "shared sacrifice" from America's wealthiest.
The Senate is expected to vote today on whether to filibuster a motion to proceed to the measure, and 60 votes would be needed to overcome that hurdle.
If Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) can agree to allow a handful of amendments, both sides are likely to walk away feeling like they've won a messaging battle, even though they are unlikely to approve anything that would actually change tax or budget policy.
"I think we should have a debate," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said of moving forward with the resolution, adding there's "broad" support for doing so among his caucus. "There's substantive issues beyond a Sense of the Senate we ought to be talking about."
Graham said that Republicans want to talk about "real amendments" that would have the force of law, and within the GOP meeting Wednesday afternoon, many familiar provisions were floated among Members for potential votes.
Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) declined to comment specifically on what he and his colleagues discussed, but he shed light on measures that McConnell might consider while negotiating with Reid on an agreement to proceed, including spending and budget proposals from GOP Sens. Bob Corker (Tenn.) and Johnny Isakson (Ga.).
"The president has not made his proposal. We have made ours, and we're looking for any forum that will give us a chance to do that — whether it's Sen. Corker's CAP Act ... whether it's a way to deal with entitlements, whether it's Sen. Isakson's two-year budget amendment — all of those ideas need serious consideration by the Senate," Alexander said in a brief interview. "To suggest trivial ideas to deal with a serious proposal is very disappointing, and we're going to counter that by making serious proposals of our own."