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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Ping-Pong and Vote-A-Rama

Chad Pergram reports at Fox News about a procedure that does not represent the height of deliberative democracy:
“Why can't we debate the budget? They won't let us. We're in a senseless, senseless, senseless 60 hours of doing nothing,” protested [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid.

That’s partly because several Republican senators – most-notably Sens. Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) - stalled matters in an effort to force votes on amendments important to them. Moran wanted funding for air traffic controllers who work at small airports. Ayotte tried to strike dollars for a defense program she characterized as the “missile to nowhere.”

Finally, the Senate broke the logjam and crafted an agreement to finish the CR and ping-pong the spending bill back to the House so it could get about the budget.

Which it did. The Senate debated the budget deep into the night Wednesday. Special budget rules require hours of debate when considering such a resolution. And when the Senate adjourned around 10:45 pm ET,  it still had a hefty 34 hours of debate ahead. That was to be followed by a nearly-as-onerous “vote-a-rama.”

Think of a “vote-a-rama” as the parliamentary equivalent of a weekend marathon on TLC or Lifetime. It’s where the Senate spends an entire day, taking roll call vote after roll call vote on amendments to the budget. But for the Senate, this marathon is like watching a string of Sister Wives, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Criminal Minds and Hoarding: Buried Alive blended together…with a dose of The Twilight Zone on Syfy.

Ben & Jerry’s and Haagen-Dazs might help a depressed soul endure the TV marathons.
But they don’t churn out a vat of ice cream big enough to dull the monotony of the Senate vote-a-rama. Reid had hoped to boil off the mandatory debate time earlier in the week to get to the “vote-a-rama” sooner. But such is life in the U.S. Senate. It’s now possible the Senate could endure several very late sessions or even bleed into the weekend. That may delay a pending two-week break for Easter and Passover.

The “vote-a-rama” usually drives senators and staff to the point of exhaustion. It’s a war of attrition. A March Madness play-in team like LIU-Brooklyn would have a better chance of hanging around the Big Dance than some of the amendments in the Senate budget brackets. But it’s just the way the Senate does things.