“Senators may like to hide behind rhetorical support of certain bills, but they can’t hide from public votes that make it clear where they really stand,” Denton said. “Most Senators talk about earmark reform, but few were willing to actually make it a reality until they were forced to take a position in public. Similarly, every Senator talks about cutting wasteful spending and balancing the budget, but this year we’ll see who’s serious.”
One senior Senate Democratic aide said McConnell clearly has mismanaged the amendment process. “You’d think he’d want to spread the wealth a little bit. They’re not all safe,” the aide said. “It also goes to show how politically motivated they all are.”
Democrats have long argued that Coburn, DeMint, Vitter and other conservatives who have been fixtures on the Senate floor are merely trying to score political points or delay passage rather than improve the legislation.
And some amendments clearly seemed designed to make Democrats squeamish.
During the high-stakes health care reform reconciliation debate in March, Democrats had promised their House counterparts that they would adopt no amendments to the measure. But Republicans tested the majority’s willpower by offering amendments on gun rights, gay marriage and breast cancer screenings. Coburn, however, provided the most uncomfortable vote by offering a proposal that would have prohibited federal funds from paying for erectile dysfunction drugs for sex offenders.
At the time, one Senate Democratic aide called Coburn’s “Viagra” amendment “a cheap political stunt.”
However, McConnell spokesman Don Stewart indicated that the trend would not be changing anytime soon. “All Senate Republicans, and more important, their constituents, benefit when we have the opportunity to amend and improve legislation,” he said.
Roll Call has launched a new feature, Hill Navigator, to advise congressional staffers and would-be staffers on how to manage workplace issues on Capitol Hill. Please send us your questions anything from office etiquette, to handling awkward moments, to what happens when the work life gets too personal. Submissions will be treated anonymously.