In the Senate, members are usually spending pork -- not eating it! But a barbeque dinner was one of the few perks of last night's vote-a-rama, the closest thing to a Senate sleepover there is. After working well past 4 a.m., members and their staffs were just leaving their offices this morning when most Americans were headed to theirs. Sixteen hours, 784 amendments, and gallons of coffee later, the weary 100 finally made their way to the exits for a two-week Easter break.
By dawn, 42 amendments were actually voted on in the unique budget free-for-all -- which, for all the frenzy, isn't even legally binding. As it has for years, the Senate uses this crazy process to map out a budget blueprint. The benefit is that, unlike other legislative business, leaders can offer an unlimited number of amendments without worrying about filibusters. That usually means senators will take the opportunity to make a political point -- or try to get their colleagues on the record on an issue that they can use to their advantage in campaign ads later on.
"Unlike normal legislation, which can be debated for weeks on end, this law limits the total debate time for a budget resolution to 50 hours... This is quite different from the process on a normal bill," former Senate staffer Keith Hennessey explains, "where you can offer an amendment but not be assured of a quick vote." By the end, the Senate will typically have crammed in a third of their votes for the year into this one chaotic night.
In between the barbeque and baked beans, members managed to deal with a number of FRC's key issues. While our government affairs team worked around-the-clock tracking amendments, there were a few surprises. In the good news column, Senator David Vitter's (R-La.) amendment put another dent in the President's PR campaign for Common Core. By 54-46, the Senate voted to stop the state coercion on the federal standards. For the last few years, the federal government has strong-armed states into adopting Common Core by withholding certain funds. It's been an effective carrot-stick approach for the Obama administration, which can't seem to find much support for the agenda without incentivizing, mandating, or bullying states into submission.
Then, following in the House's footsteps, senators also laid down a marker on the death tax. Under Congress's liberal leadership, the tax code never says die -- even when the person it's taxing does. When President Bush was in office, Americans didn't have to worry about the cost of passing on their estates. And although the Left likes to argue that the tax only affects millionaires, they're wrong. A lot of times, it's the small businesses that started in family's garage and farms who suffer most. Last night, Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) introduced language to bury the death tax, which also passed on a party-line vote, 54-46.
In the greatest disappointment of the night, almost a dozen Republicans -- some who visibly campaigned on natural marriage -- sided with Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) in tearing down the last two federal holdouts that respect state marriage laws: the social security and veterans' administrations. Unlike other departments, these agencies have consistently recognized marriage for couples based on the state where they live -- not the state where they "married."
In a stunning betrayal of voters and the GOP platform, 11 RINOs decided the federal government should trump state laws on marriage and force states to bow to the Left's definition. In other words, the question was not just about what marriage is, but who gets to decide. Senators Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Richard Burr (N.C.), Shelley Capito (W.Va.), Susan Collins (Maine), Dean Heller (Nev.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Rob Portman (Ohio), Thom Tillis (N.C.), Ron Johnson (Wisc), and Bob Corker (Tenn.) made it clear that they were quite comfortable undermining state marriage laws -- even when many of these same Republicans (Tillis in particular) -- were fighting last year to defend them!
Interestingly enough, these Senators trampled state sovereignty on the same day as a Texas court ruled that the Department of Labor could only give couples benefits based on the state where they were married -- not their state of residence. "The public maintains an abiding interest in preserving the rule of law and enforcing the states' duly enacted laws from federal encroachment," District Judge Reed O'Connor wrote. Too bad these 11 Republicans don't share that same interest.