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After Budget Votes, Democrats Push Paid Sick Leave, Middle Class Tax Credits, Federal Benefits for Gay Couples (Updated)

Murray's amendment was among those to get clear of 60 votes during the budget debate. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 1:28 p.m. | Senate Democrats want Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to embrace lessons of the budget vote-a-rama that took place just before recess.  

In a letter to the Kentucky Republican, a copy of which was obtained in advance by CQ Roll Call, nine Democratic senators called for votes on issues like paid sick leave and Social Security benefits for same-sex couples.  

"Too often, the budget vote-a-rama is characterized as a partisan exercise that leaves no lasting policy impact. Working with you, we hope to make this Budget vote-a-rama different. While we strongly oppose the underlying Senate Republican budget and the negative impacts it would have on middle-class and working families, we believe the following four amendments represent policies that deserve a vote in this Congress," the senators wrote.  

Each of the four items identified by the Democratic signatories received broad support on non-binding amendment votes cast during the budget debate, with three of the four garnering in excess of the 60 votes that would be needed to overcome procedural hurdles and potential filibusters on the Senate floor.  

They include an amendment designed to back legislation to promote paid sick leave, to bar employment discrimination for pregnant workers, to provide for middle class tax relief and to grant married same-sex couples equal access to both Social Security and veterans benefits.  

The first three of those garnered in excess of 60 votes during the late-night voting marathon, and an amendment on the benefits for gay couples offered by Hawaii Democrat Brian Schatz, which ultimately got 57 yes votes, created some of the most interesting drama in what was a rather benign vote-a-rama. GOP Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania each voted against the Schatz amendment after what seemed like a significant delay.  

And the paid sick leave amendment offered by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., appeared to particularly perplex some GOP senators on the ballot in 2016.  

"No worker should have to sacrifice a day's pay, or their job altogether, just to take care of themselves or their sick child. Today’s vote was an important step forward for families in need of paid sick days and I’m going to fight to get this done," Murray said in a statement after getting 61 votes in favor of her budget amendment.  

With McConnell having been vocal in his support of an open amendment process, these Democratic proposals are the type that could be difficult for Republican opponents to ward off.  

But, as McConnell spokesman Don Stewart pointed out, there is no shortage of GOP proposals that have demonstrated support of Democrats and Republicans alike, as well. That includes offerings from John Barrasso of Wyoming, Roy Blunt of Missouri and Deb Discher of Nebraska, as well as McConnell himself.  

"While they left out a lot of amendments that passed with bipartisan support (such as Sen. Fischer's equal pay amendment, Sen. McConnell’s EPA amendment, Sen. Barrasso's on Waters of the U.S., and the Blunt amendment blocking an energy tax), I'm sure that was just an oversight," Stewart said in a statement. "Despite not bringing many of these issues to the floor when they were in the majority, under the new Congress’ return to regular order, Senators of both parties now have the opportunity to work with the appropriate committee chairmen to report bipartisan legislation that complies with the budget."  

The full text of the letter signed by Democrats Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Murray, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Charles E. Schumer of New York, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Schatz and Al Franken of Minnesota appears below:

Dear Leader McConnell, We write today to urge you to work with us to keep the momentum behind a series of non-binding budget resolution amendments moving forward. During budget “vote-a-rama,” a number of Senate Republicans supported Democratic amendments containing common-sense policies that will benefit hardworking Americans instead of special interests. As the sponsors of those amendments, we would like to assure you that we stand ready to work with you to bring real legislation separate from the budget to the floor for an up-or-down vote. As you know, amendments to the budget that are voted on during vote-a-rama do not have the force of law. However, a bipartisan majority vote on an amendment can be an important mark of whether or not a certain policy can pass the Senate with a 60 vote affirmative threshold. Too often, the budget vote-a-rama is characterized as a partisan exercise that leaves no lasting policy impact. Working with you, we hope to make this Budget vote-a-rama different. While we strongly oppose the underlying Senate Republican budget and the negative impacts it would have on middle-class and working families, we believe the following four amendments represent policies that deserve a vote in this Congress.
  • Paid Sick Leave (passed 61-39) - Amendment No. 798 to improve workplace benefits and reduce health care costs, which may include measures to allow Americans to earn paid sick time to address their own health needs and the health needs of their families, and to promote equal employment opportunities.
  • Ending Discrimination Against Pregnant Workers (passed 100-0) - Amendment No. 632 to increase employment opportunities and prevent employment discrimination, which may include measures to prevent employment discrimination against pregnant workers, to provide pregnant workers with a right to workplace accommodations, and to ensure that employers comply with requirements regarding such workplace accommodations for pregnant workers.
  • Equal Access to Benefits for Same Sex Couples (passed 57-43) - Amendment No. 1063 to ensuring all legally married same-sex spouses have equal access to the Social Security and veterans benefits they have earned and receive equal treatment under the law pursuant to the Constitution of the United States.
  • Middle Class Tax Cuts (passed 73-27) – Amendment No. 968 to enacting middle class tax relief, including extending and expanding refundable tax credits, such as tax provisions and policies included in legislation like the Working Families Tax Relief Act, American Opportunity Tax Credit Permanence and Consolidation Act, Helping Working Families Afford Child Care Act, or the 21st Century Worker Tax Cut Act.
We respectfully request that you publicly announce a timetable for the prompt Senate consideration of these policies, which have clear bipartisan support.
Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report. The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.