Update 6:28 p.m. | It's officially open political vote season on the Senate floor, and Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., is the latest vulnerable 2014 incumbent to benefit from Majority Leader Harry Reid's power of the calendar.
The Senate voted Monday evening on legislation championed by Pryor — and co-sponsored by five Democrats who also are in-cycle — to repeal $6 billion in cost-of-living adjustments to military pensions agreed to in the 2013 bipartisan budget agreement. The legislation, which is not offset by spending cuts elsewhere, is unlikely to garner any Republican support in its current form, even though GOP senators moved to open debate Monday. Republicans likely would object to spending increases and to date have not offered Democrats alternatives they would accept. But Reid circumvented a committee markup to bring the bill straight to the floor so Democrats could record an up-or-down vote. The result? Just one of many votes Democratic leaders hope to hold in the months to come to benefit their most embattled members.
"Congress should protect veterans who put their lives on the line to protect our country. I thank Senators Pryor, [Jeanne] Shaheen, [Kay] Hagan,[Mark] Begich and others for their leadership on this issue," Reid said as he opened the Senate floor Monday. "Although the provision reversed by this measure does not take effect until the end of next year, there is no reason to delay. I hope Republicans will join Democrats to pass this bill without the usual partisan games."
Of course, such a vote is neither unprecedented nor unique to one party. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is sure to fight for amendments he and his team believe could put those same vulnerable Democrats in tough spots with swing voters. And many members in both parties objected to the COLA change for military retirees as soon as it was included in the deal to avert another government shutdown. But with so little getting done legislatively in any election year, a vote like the one slated for Monday is a typical pawn in the political chess match leaders play in the Dome while operatives outside of it look for campaign ad and flier fodder.
Republicans will say Pryor and others on the bill — Hagan of North Carolina, Begich of Alaska, Shaheen of New Hampshire and Jeff Merkley of Oregon — all voted to increase the deficit. If no amendment agreement is reached, Democrats will say Republicans filibustered the restoration of pensions to veterans. The truth is that on the grand scale of federal policy, neither position is all that substantial. Yet, in an election year, with the Senate majority at stake, every little advantage or argument that can be made builds a case for one party or the other.
"It's about setting an agenda," one Senate Democratic aide said of election-year votes. "It's less about [incremental] politics, and more about showing people what Democratic priorities are — economic fairness, making sure we take care of our veterans."
At each voting turn, however, both national campaign operations will be quick to point out the political motivations of the other side, regardless of policy. National Republican Senatorial Committee spokeswoman Brook Hougesen responded to Monday's vote on the Pryor measure in a statement to CQ Roll Call: "Once again, you can't trust anything Mark Pryor, Mary Landrieu or Mark Begich say. First they opposed a plan to ensure veterans' received their benefits, and now have the chutzpah to offer the exact same legislation that they opposed in a blatant effort to fool voters and score political points."
Democrats previously rejected a GOP offer to pay for a rollback of the pension cuts by taking away child tax credits that benefit approximately 4 million American-citizen minors whose parents do not have legal status.
Already this year, the Senate voted on legislation championed by Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., to renew the federal flood insurance program. The bill was important not only for her constituents in the short term, but was also key to showing voters her influence with leaders and how that helps her state . Landrieu is poised to take the helm of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in a chairmanship shake-up catalyzed by the departure of Max Baucus, D-Mont., who last week was confirmed as the next ambassador to China. On one of the few big-ticket items Congress has passed this year, the five year farm re-authorization, Pryor highlighted his "yes" vote, while attacking opponent Rep. Tom Cotton for voting "no."
The Rothenberg Report/Roll Call rates the Arkansas race a Tossup/Tilts Republican contest.