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As senators tackled their first budget vote-a-rama since 2009, opinions were decidedly mixed as to whether the budget law dictating abbreviated debate followed by unlimited amendment votes should be revamped.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said he had no problem with the process, noting that the minority’s ability to offer amendments is often restricted.
“There’s nothing wrong with this process,” Coburn said in an interview on CSPAN’s “Newsmakers” taped Friday. “It’s the only time in the Senate where your minority rights are truly protected to where you can offer an amendment with a 51-vote threshold.
“Are there political games being played? Yes, there always will be,” Coburn continued. He filed more than 50 amendments as the vote-a-rama dragged into Friday night.
There are plenty of opportunities for senators to score political wins on their proposals, even though budgets do not have the force of law.
Republican Sen. John Hoeven posted one of the biggest symbolic victories during his first experience with the budget proceedings, getting a filibuster-proof majority — 62 senators, including 17 Democrats — on record in support of construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada.
“We’ve established clearly the president needs to make a decision, it needs to be an affirmative decision because the support is here to approve it if he doesn’t,” Hoeven told reporters. He was still the governor of North Dakota the last time the Senate went through this exercise.
But as for the hours upon hours of voting, “obviously, there’s better ways to do it,” Hoeven said. “Except this is an opportunity for people to put up their amendments, and as you can see, there’s a great desire to vote on more amendments and we should be.”
He added, “I think what you see going on here is some of this pent-up desire to get these amendments to the floor and vote on them.”
Hoeven, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he was hopeful that new committee leadership would push to bring more spending bills to the floor while allowing amendments. Under regular order, senators debating appropriations bills could offer more substantive versions of their non-binding budget amendments.
Under budget law, debate on the floor enjoys an expedited process that allows all senators to offer, and get votes on, an unlimited number of amendments on a cornucopia of subjects, and the hours and hours of clerks continuously calling the roll was on display Friday night.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, also a member of the Appropriations Committee, agreed with Coburn.
“It’s better than nothing, which is what we’ve had for four years,” she said, an oft-used GOP criticism about Senate Democrats’ decision to forego a budget resolution for the past three years.