The Senate Friday night was slogging through numerous amendments to its first budget in four years as pent-up demand for test votes on key policy issues ballooned the process.
K Street lobbyists and political campaign consultants were chomping at the bit for results of votes on energy, gun, tax and immigration policy. The hundreds of amendments are otherwise largely symbolic, because even if the liberal Senate Democratic budget gets reconciled with the conservative House Republican budget, the overall resolution will never have the force of law.
After getting off to a late start, the Senate finally began its much-anticipated budget "vote-a-rama," the free-wheeling process by which senators can seek an unlimited number of amendments to the 2014 budget bill at 3:45 p.m.
Shortly after 3:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, senators adopted in block several amendments and then will have votes on 14 more amendments before final passage. Sen. Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnBiden and AOC's reckless spending plans are a threat to the planet NSF funding choice: Move forward or fall behind DHS establishes domestic terror unit within its intelligence office MORE (R-Okla.) drew applause when he withdrew one of his amendments at approximately 4:00 a.m., reducing that number to 13.
Consideration of amendments is the penultimate phase of budget work for the Senate. Once all requests are considered, the Senate hopes to pass the plan either late tonight or possibly in the early hours of Saturday morning.
But before then, amendments could be called up on any number of subjects that have been the subject of debate over the last several months. Amendments have been filed on the legality of drone strikes against Americans on U.S. soil, cutting taxes, ending offshore tax havens, repealing the healthcare law, gun control, immigration and even withholding the pay of White House officials if the budget is late.
While these are divisive issues, approval of amendments does not change U.S. law, as they are simply amendments to a non-binding budget resolution. For example, Thursday's approval of an amendment calling for an end to the medical device tax will not result in the actual repeal of that tax.
Earlier today, the Senate turned away language from Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzPoll: Trump dominates 2024 Republican primary field Republican politicians: Let OSHA do its job O'Rourke prepping run for governor in Texas: report MORE (R-Texas) that would repeal the 2010 healthcare law. It also rejected language from Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyottePoll: Potential Sununu-Hassan matchup in N.H. a dead heat Democrats facing tough reelections back bipartisan infrastructure deal Sununu seen as top recruit in GOP bid to reclaim Senate MORE (R-N.H.) to prevent a vote on any budget plan that calls for increased taxes when the unemployment rate is above 5.5 percent.
Both amendments were rejected in partisan 45-54 votes.
To get final approval of the budget, Democratic leaders can only afford to lose four Democratic or Independent votes. If four are lost, Vice President Biden could be needed to break a tie.
It was thought that Democrats could lose five votes, but Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) has been ill and is not in this week. His office said Friday he is available to vote on the budget if he is needed.
Still, Democrats seem likely to pass the budget, even though some Democrats up for reelection are wary of supporting a plan that would raise nearly $1 trillion in taxes over the next decade.
Four of those senators — Mark PryorMark Lunsford PryorBottom line Everybody wants Joe Manchin Cotton glides to reelection in Arkansas MORE of Arkansas, Mark BegichMark Peter BegichAlaska Senate race sees cash surge in final stretch Alaska group backing independent candidate appears linked to Democrats Sullivan wins Alaska Senate GOP primary MORE of Alaska, Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampWashington's oldest contact sport: Lobbyists scrum to dilute or kill Democrats' tax bill Progressives prepare to launch counterattack in tax fight Business groups aim to divide Democrats on .5T spending bill MORE of North Dakota and Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusBiden nominates Nicholas Burns as ambassador to China Cryptocurrency industry lobbies Washington for 'regulatory clarity' Bottom line MORE of Montana — said Friday they remained undecided on the bill.
“We’ll see how it looks and how it’s amended,” said Pryor, a top target of Senate Republicans.
Other undecided Democrats to watch include Sens. Kay HaganKay Ruthven HaganInfighting grips Nevada Democrats ahead of midterms Democrats, GOP face crowded primaries as party leaders lose control Biden's gun control push poses danger for midterms MORE (D-N.C.), Joe ManchinJoe ManchinPelosi says House members would not vote on spending bill topline higher than Senate's To reduce poverty, stop burdening the poor: What Joe Manchin gets wrong about the child tax credit Overnight Health Care — Presented by Indivior —Pfizer: COVID-19 vaccine safe for young kids MORE (D-W.Va.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyRepublicans may regret restricting reproductive rights Sanders traveling to Iowa, Indiana to pitch Biden's spending package Supreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden's 2020 agenda MORE (D-Ind.). Hagan is also up for reelection in 2014, and her office said Friday she is still undecided.
Begich was pushing Friday for amendments totaling $400 million in spending cuts, including to defense and agriculture.
Reid and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayFaith leaders call on Congress to lead the response to a global pandemic Conservation group says it will only endorse Democrats who support .5T spending plan Support the budget resolution to ensure a critical investment in child care MORE (D-Wash.) say their plan would reduce the deficit by $4 trillion.
But it includes nearly $1 trillion in new taxes that could be difficult for some centrist Democrats to support. And because the Democratic budget turns off the sequester's automatic spending cuts, Republicans argue it would increase spending over the next decade.
The House approved its own budget on Thursday. It would lower tax rates while reducing spending by $5.7 trillion, and would balance in 10 years.
The two budgets are unlikely to be reconciled, but will serve as messaging vehicles for both sides, particularly as the White House works with Congress on a possible deficit-reduction deal in conjunction with raising the debt ceiling this summer.
—This report was originally published at 3:45 p.m. on Friday and last updated at 4:07 a.m. on Saturday.