Harry Reid's strategy of blocking amendments all year was intended with one clear objective in mind — protecting his majority.
Republicans have complained vociferously about the Senate majority leader shutting down amendments — but behind the scenes, the Nevada Democrat's senators asked him to do so for a very simple reason: Nobody wants to give an opponent fodder for 30-second ads in a tough election year.
Reid's strategy had a downside, because Democrats had fewer opportunities to show their independence from an unpopular president. But aside from that attack, Republicans have been left mostly to mine earlier votes from, for instance, the 2013 budget resolution vote-a-rama — or for parts of the Affordable Care Act they voted for years ago.
Here are some of the subjects — and TV attack lines — Reid's strategy sought to avoid: 1. The "Vitter Amendment." Possible attack line: "You voted to save your own health care benefits!" Reid repeatedly blocked a vote on Sen. David Vitter's amendment aimed at blocking the employer contribution for health benefits provided to members and staff through the local Obamacare exchange, despite what the Louisiana Republican wrote in a Roll Call opinion piece earlier this year.
"At a minimum voters deserve to know — and before the election — the names of the Washington insiders who voted to protect themselves from Obamacare but not their constituents. That's important too. Because sometimes you have to fire much of the kitchen staff to get the cooking right," Vitter wrote.
2. Repealing the individual mandate. Possible attack line: "You voted to tax working families without health insurance." (If paired with No. 1, attack line could be "You voted to tax families without health insurance while saving your own!")
Republican Conference Chairman John Thune of South Dakota wanted to offer an amendment to throw out the health care law's individual mandate to buy health insurance. That's one of a slew of Republican proposals short of the full repeal of the health care law aimed at putting Democrats on defense.
3. Nixing the medical device tax. Possible attack line: "You voted to tax wheelchairs." Repealing the 2 percent medical device excise tax that came in as part of the Affordable Care Act has been a longstanding wish list item for Senate Republicans (and more than a few Democrats).
"For some reason they don't want to have that vote," Finance ranking member Orrin G. Hatch of Utah said of the medical device tax rollback when the Senate was gearing up for a debate on a bipartisan package of $85 billion worth of tax extenders. That debate never really happened, and a new effort to revive the lapsed tax benefits is expected after the election.
4. Approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. Possible attack line: "You voted to send oil and jobs to China." The Senate last voted in connection with the pipeline from Canada during the vote-a-rama, when 62 senators voted in favor of an amendment offered by Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., in support of the project. But, as with all of those votes it was non-binding .
Reid offered up a vote on Keystone as part of a would-be deal to move a bipartisan energy efficiency bill pushed by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio — but Republicans said no. But not holding this vote is a negative for some Democrats, like Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, the chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, who lost a chance to show some clout and independence for the president.
5. Sen. John Thune's energy amendment. Possible attack line: "You voted to protect regulations on energy producers, not pocketbooks." Republicans wanted to have a broad debate on energy policy, not just one Keystone vote, on the Shaheen-Portman bill. They demanded votes on five amendments, including one from Thune of South Dakota that would require Congress to vote on any EPA regulation with costs greater than $50 million per year before that regulation could take effect. If Congress rejected the new regulation, the EPA would have to consider less costly alternatives.
6. Power plants. Possible attack lines: "You voted to raise utility bills," or "You voted to kill jobs." Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell wanted to offer an amendment to the 2015 Energy-Water appropriations bill that would have put the brakes on the EPA’s plans to implement new limits on carbon emissions from existing power plants — regulations that are expected to shut down a number of coal plants by 2030.
McConnell's amendment would also have required certification that electricity prices wouldn't go up or jobs lost.
But the Appropriations Committee never marked up the bill, in part, to avoid the amendment, which would have put a number of vulnerable Democrats in a tight spot.
Republicans are still using variations of this attack on the campaign trail against Shaheen, citing a nonbinding vote she cast in 2013 for a deficit-neutral reserve fund mentioning a fee on carbon and returning proceeds to the American people.
7. Iran sanctions. Possible attack lines: "You voted to protect Iran's mullahs at the expense of Israel," "You voted against sanctions on Iran's plans to build a nuclear weapon," or just "Tick-tick-tick" (see LBJ's "Daisy" commercial). Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J., sponsored a bipartisan bill imposing new sanctions on Iran if that country fails to reach a deal rolling back its nuclear program.
But the White House prevailed upon Reid to put the bill in the Senate freezer by arguing the bill could blow up the talks and make war more likely. Talks are ongoing with a Nov. 24 deadline.
A Republican-led Senate would likely revisit the issue. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said recently that he has a bill with the current ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, R-Tenn., which would ensure that the Senate vote on any agreement reached from the talks by considering it a treaty. His comments come after reports that Obama, having determined that he doesn’t need authority to alter the existing sanctions, could try to bypass Congress.
“It’s one of the first things we are going to do if we get the majority,” McCain said, adding that he is concerned the White House will strike a bad deal.
8. Audit the Fed. Possible attack line: "You voted against auditing the Fed." What do you do when an issue — like auditing the Federal Reserve — is extremely popular in polls but you don't actually want to do it? You avoid voting on it.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has taken up the cause of his father, former Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, to pass a bill requiring an audit. The GOP-run House passed a companion bill in September and Paul earlier this year threatened to hold up any Federal Reserve nominees unless the Senate acted on his bill.
But such threats were defanged last year after Senate Democrats pulled the trigger on the nuclear option and effectively eliminated the ability to filibuster almost all nominations.
9. "Right-to-Work." Possible attack line: "You voted with union bosses." Democrats in some states could have been put on the spot if McConnell's efforts to get a national "right to work" proposal had gotten a vote — as he tried to do on both the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and an unemployment extension.
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