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Senate 'vote-a-rama' to supply ample ammunition for 2014 attacks

It’s time for one of the Senate’s dizzying spectacles: the vote-a-rama, a series of rapid-fire votes on dozens of amendments to the budget resolution.

The sponsor of each amendment and one opponent are each permitted just one minute to argue for and against it. Senators can offer new amendments even as the helter-skelter process is underway.

Related: Budget battles - What you need to know

Some, perhaps many, of these amendments will have nothing to do with the budget or fiscal policy. And the budget resolution itself won’t be adopted by the House, so these amendments aren’t going to determine policy, at least not in the near term.

But party operatives on each side are keeping score – these votes are fodder for the campaign ads you’ll see in 2014.

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, right, turns to Sen. Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., as lawmakers rush to the Senate floor on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, March 22, 2013, to vote on amendments to the budget resolution.

Senators who are up for re-election next year whose votes the operatives will be watching closely during the vote-a-rama include:

Sen. Susan Collins, R- Maine, the only Republican senator up for re-election next year who is from a state President Obama carried in the 2012 election.

Sen. John Cornyn, R –Texas, who might face a conservative primary challenger.

And five Democrats from states where Obama under-performed or did poorly in 2012 elections:

  • Sen. Mark Begich, D- Alaska
  • Sen. Mark Pryor, D- Ark.
  • Sen. Kay Hagan, D- N.C.
  • Sen. Mary Landrieu, D- La.
  • Sen. Max Baucus, D- Montana

Among the votes that had been taken by early Friday evening two environmental issues stood out.

By a vote of 58 to 41, the Senate rejected an amendment by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D- R.I., to allow enactment of a fee on carbon pollution.

Among senators up for re-election in 2014, Begich voted for the Whitehouse carbon fee, but Baucus, Collins, Cornyn, Hagan, Johnson, Landrieu, and Pryor voted against it.

The Senate voted, 62 to 37 to approve an amendment offered by Sen. John Hoeven, R- N.D., to support construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline to carry crude oil from Alberta to U.S. refineries and terminals. Begich, Baucus, Collins, Cornyn, Hagan, Johnson, Landrieu, and Pryor all voted for it.

An unintended consequence of the wording of the 1974 Budget Act, the vote-a-rama allows senators to offer a number of amendments limited only by their imagination and their stamina.

“Back to back votes, limited time to review and debate, and uncertainty on what senators are voting on are the hallmark of vote-a-ramas,” said former Senate Republican aide Bill Hoagland in 2011 testimony to the Senate budget Committee. 

Usually the Senate majority leader can use his powers to limit the number of amendments to a bill and can ensure that a member of his party up for re-election next year won’t need to cast a politically risky vote.

But the budget resolution is a different animal.

“The budget resolution and reconciliation bill are the only Senate vehicles with a guaranteed right for any Senator to offer an amendment and receive a vote,” Hoagland said. “Rightly or wrongly, vote-a-rama does ensure that not only the minority but any senator can offer amendments.”

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