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Senate Democrats have largely avoided politically tricky votes in recent years, but last week’s dueling announcements that they would pursue a budget and give the minority guaranteed amendments on some bills is bound to put vulnerable members on the spot.
A budget on the floor involves an expedited process that allows senators in both parties the chance to offer — and get votes on — an unlimited number of amendments on a cornucopia of subjects. The process requires hours and hours of clerks continuously calling the roll.
“It may be a little bit like throwing some raw meat to a pack of ravenous dogs who haven’t eaten in three years, because it’s been so long since Republicans have had a chance to ... offer amendments that they may have a hard time controlling themselves,” Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said of the budget process.
A budget vote-a-rama hasn’t been seen since the 2010 health care reconciliation bill. The last actual budget resolution with an amendment free-for-all took place on the floor in 2009.
Asked last week whether the vote-a-rama would be making a comeback, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid joked that it would, unless someone could find a way to avoid it. Unfortunately for the Nevada Democrat, there seems to be no way around it if Democrats are serious about taking up a budget resolution, according to longtime Senate aide G. William Hoagland.
A top budget policy aide to former Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and former Budget Chairman Pete V. Domenici, R-N.M., Hoagland said that short of changing the budget law, the vote-a-rama is unavoidable.
“The managers can try to enter into a unanimous consent agreement,” Hoagland said, adding that during his time helping senators manage the budget resolution on the floor, “we tried to figure out ways to get that kind of consent early on ... so there was basically a time limit before we got to the end.”
Without such an agreement, any senator may offer surprise attack amendments that receive up-or-down votes essentially without debate, as long as the amendments are drafted to comply with the peculiarities of budget law.
Alexander noted that the filibuster rules changes made last week could give GOP senators more chances to offer amendments outside the budget process, potentially making the process more manageable. But a few Democrats have warned that guaranteeing the minority at least two amendment votes in exchange for avoiding some filibusters would invite Republicans to play politics with the process.