Today, for the first time since 2009, Senate Democrats are poised to pass a full-year fiscal budget plan, a bill that will serve as a statement of the party's economic ideologies, as well as a starting point for the upcoming budget negotiation process. But before Democrats can vote on final passage of the bill, they'll spend most of today - and possibly late tonight or even early tomorrow morning - debating and voting on dozens of non-binding budget-related amendments, some designed simply to set members up for future political ads and barbs.
The Democratic budget, in addition to repealing sequestration, seeks $1.85 trillion worth of savings over 10 years through an equal combination of tax revenue increases and spending cuts. But not all of the amendments up for debate today will have anything to do with those particular details: Both parties are tacking on amendments that will get their rivals on the record on controversial matters, and will test support for issues they may want to pursue in the future.
"We're going to have a lot of votes today," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., in remarks today opening Senate floor action. "We have had about 400 amendments filed. Four hundred."
Reid stressed that the Senate would not likely get to all 400 amendments, but rather, "the average that we have on these 'vote-a-ramas' is between 25 and 35."
"Everyone should understand that's about where we should wind up," he said.
Among the amendments that are being offered include provisions that would strip Obamacare of controversial provisions; a measure promoting the GOP-favored "school choice" educational philosophy; a "no budget, no pay" amendment, which would dock White House officials' pay if the president was late with his budget proposal; various reforms and amendments to the nation's tax code; legislation banning abortions for sex-selection; and hundreds more. The Senate forced a vote last night on the House-passed Paul Ryan budget, which failed 59-40, and other budget plans - including Rand Paul's - are up for discussion as well.
For some senators, these amendments present opportunities to publicly put forth legislation on issues they want to be on the record as supporting; still others are hoping to see exactly how much support a particular measure can get, and whether it might stand a chance in a future Senate vote. But some votes - such as that for the Ryan budget proposal - are primarily fodder for future campaign ads.
"Yesterday, the Senate did vote to reject the idea that balancing the budget by an arbitrary date should come before middle-class families and broad-based economic growth," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who penned the Democratic budget proposal. "We voted on an approach that puts our economy first and foremost and makes sure that we are protecting, not threatening our fragile economic recovery."
For now, however, senators are embarking on the long slog of amendments on which they'll be voting on late into the night.
"I urge all of our colleagues to work with us and our staffs and with ranking member sessions and his staff to make sure we know what your priorities are, how you would like to proceed, and we will work with everyone to help combine some similar amendments, obviously, among those 400," Murray said this morning on the Senate floor. "We will get through as many votes as possible in a fair and reasonable manner."