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Nowhere to Hide in Senate Vote-a-Rama

Budget resolution debate brings politically tough votes on amendments

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Cornyn said the GOP had a “collective list of priority amendments.”

The first vote-a-rama on a Senate budget resolution in four years offers each party a chance to force the other to cast politically treacherous votes, and both sides are lining up for the opportunity, which could begin as early as Friday.

Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, the Democrats’ chief deputy whip, said Wednesday that she believes party leaders would try to pair tough Republican amendments with Democratic alternatives. “We’ll have side-by-sides. They would be related to the topic,” she said.

Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas said the GOP had a “collective list of priority amendments.” The options include a mandate for the budget to be balanced in a 10-year window and a proposal to strike a Democratic provision for $975 billion in tax increases on wealthy taxpayers and corporations to help reduce the deficit.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and the White House have worked in tandem to shield vulnerable Senate Democrats from tough votes that could provide opponents with campaign fodder. But regardless of those concerns, the Senate this week will finish its first budget debate in four years.

Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., kicked off formal floor proceedings 5 p.m. Wednesday. Thursday is likely to be a long day of speechmaking, with rank-and-file lawmakers of both parties eager to talk.

While each party is guaranteed 25 hours of debate on the budget resolution under the rules, the main event — a continuous sequence on nonbinding votes known as a vote-a-rama — is expected to begin Friday.

A senior Republican aide said Wednesday he didn’t expect Republicans would yield back debate time until after a full day of budget speeches Thursday, likely setting up the marathon floor session for Friday. Depending on the number of amendments offered, it could linger into Saturday. Reid has threatened to keep the Senate in session until the budget is finished, a gambit intended to spur senators to limit their amendments so they can more quickly begin a two-week recess scheduled to start next week.

Though the debate is limited to 50 hours, it does not include time for actual amendment votes, which could take 15 minutes apiece.

On Wednesday, Reid shot down a suggestion by Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the ranking member of the Budget Committee, that the Senate delay the budget resolution debate until the week of April 8. That time frame would match the target date for delivery of President Barack Obama’s own fiscal 2014 budget blueprint.

Taking up the budget resolution before the White House delivers its budget allows Democrats to sidestep one potentially embarrassing vote by not giving the GOP time to introduce a version of the administration plan for an up-or-down vote.

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