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Senate Democrats May Face Budget Fire

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Senate Democrats, led by Majority Leader Harry Reid , are committed to bringing a budget resolution to the floor this year.

The implications of the filibuster changes are yet to be seen, but Hoagland said the budget vote-a-rama has long been considered a “godsend” for campaign strategists and those involved in negative ad campaigns because of the density of politically difficult votes in a narrow period of time. “There are always the gotcha amendments, and it’s too bad, but that’s the way the system works,” Hoagland said.

Despite the pitfalls, the process has become such a part of Senate practice that the chamber’s Historical Office maintains an official list of vote-a-ramas dating to 1977.

During the 2009 budget votes, topics covered a range of the most contentious policy issues of the year. South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint offered an amendment designed to block the use of funds to provide further taxpayer assistance to automakers. Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois put forward an amendment designed to make it procedurally more difficult to reduce estate taxes. Vote-a-ramas frequently include votes on issues on a range of social policy, from abortion rights to gun control to immigration.

The 2010 health care vote-a-rama famously included a proposal from Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., to bar the government from paying for Viagra for sexual predators. Because Democrats were asked to defeat all amendments to the bill, most voted against it. Not long after, the National Republican Senatorial Committee issued press releases with headlines such as: “Patty Murray Votes To Allow Convicted Sex Offenders To Receive Taxpayer-Funded Viagra.”

Murray, a Washington Democrat, happens to be the new Senate Budget chairwoman. She was a leading proponent of doing a budget this year, after three years of Democratic leaders avoiding the process.

Asked about the effect of vote-a-rama on 2014, NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh highlighted the federal debt and criticized Democrats for not having gone through the budget resolution process. “There’s no doubt that they may finally be forced to make some tough votes but it’s made worse by the Democratic majority’s failed leadership and abdication of responsibility in recent years,” he said.

Alexander viewed it as a positive step, and he said he hopes to see appropriations bills move as well. “It’ll be healthy. I mean, if you don’t want to vote, why come to the Senate. Sometimes the vote-a-rama has gotten, toward the end of it, it’s gotten tasteless,” Alexander said. “But basically, I think it’s a healthy thing and I’m looking forward to it.”

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