(WASHINGTON) — The Senate is doing something a little out of character for a Friday in Congress: they’re pulling an all-nighter.
A “vote-a-rama” is underway Friday night and senators will be voting on a myriad of back-to-back amendments to the budget bill in a marathon session which could take the Senate well past midnight into the wee hours of Saturday morning.
Friday night’s vote-a-rama has the potential to break some records.
Since 1977, the most votes in a single vote-a-rama was 44 in 2008. Over 400 amendments have been filed for this vote-a-rama so far.
None of these amendments, even the ones that pass, are in much danger of becoming law. The House and the Senate will vote on separate budgets and the president isn’t required to sign a final version.
But senators are still put on the record and these votes have a tendency to find their way into campaign commercials. The Democrats who control the Senate have avoided moving forward with a budget in recent years. But they had to do it this year because House Republicans were able to tie senators’ paychecks to their ability to pass a budget.
All of that means you get amendments like this: Democrats forced a vote on the Rep. Ryan’s House Budget. None of the Democrats support it, but now they’ll have Senate Republicans on record as either supporting the budget pathway or not. That puts Republicans in a pickle since they want to be supportive of an effort to balance the budget in ten years – as Ryan’s budget does. But they also don’t want to vote for changing Medicare – his budget does that too – unless they absolutely have to.
Republican Sen. Hatch brought up a motion to repeal the medical device tax in the health care bill. Democrats don’t really want to gut the mechanisms that finance Obamacare. But they don’t really like the medical device tax either.
Tough votes like these would usually be blocked by party leaders. But not on this Friday night during the budget debate.
It is the Senate equivalent of the Wild West. In a vote-a-rama, amendments don’t have to be filed in order to be voted on. So there is no real way of knowing which of the 400 senators have bothered to file will actually receive votes until they do. So we won’t know until later whether this vote-a-rama is one for the records books.
Any senator can offer an amendment simply by standing and seeking recognition on the floor – for example Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., has filed 51 amendments by himself alone.
A vote-a-rama ends when there is no senator on the floor seeking a vote on an amendment.
To be sure, most of the amendments that the Senate will vote on Friday night have nothing to do with the budget, the base bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said on the floor Friday morning that he hopes senators will keep the number of votes in the normal range of 25-30.
The vote-a-rama started at 3:50 pm.
And besides working well into a Friday night, there is something else that the Senate is doing that they haven’t done in awhile – vote on a budget. This will be the first time a formal budget will be voted on in the Senate for four years.
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