Yesterday was a banner day in the Senate. Members took time out of their busy schedules to stage not one, not two, but four budget votes that had no hope of passage.
That's right. First, the Senate chose to vote on Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) budget plan--which contains a controversial provision to shift Medicare into a subsidized private insurance system. That measure failed: 40-57 votes, mostly along party lines. Then, the Senate voted on President Obama's proposed budget, joining together unanimously to vote it down by a 97-0 margin. A plan offered by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) stole the show with a 42-55 failed vote--and finally another budget plan from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) failed 7-90.
Democrats control the Senate, yet not a single Democrat voted "yea" for any one of the four plans.
So why, exactly, is the country's most august deliberative body devoting so much time and energy to budget proposals that are, for all intents and purposes, dead out of the gate?
The answer, not surprisingly, has to do with electoral politics. Just one day prior to yesterday's epic bout of budget political theater in the Senate, Democrats claimed victory in a House special election in which the Ryan-backed Medicare overhaul helped lead to a surprise GOP defeat in New York's traditionally Republican-leaning 26th District. So on Wednesday, Senate Democrats wanted to force electorally vulnerable Republicans in the chamber to take an official stand on the provision by scheduling Ryan's budget for a vote.
Sure enough, they forced a small split. Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Paul all voted with Democrats to oppose Ryan's budget. And that means that Democrats can now lambaste any vulnerable senators who voted for the plan as ogres out to kill the popular entitlement program, while also setting up the four GOP senators who voted with the Democratic caucus on the budget for a bitter reckoning with tea party budget hawks on the right.
As far as the Obama plan, Democrats had already stated they wouldn't be voting for it, arguing that President Obama himself had superseded the plan with the deficit-reduction plan that he outlined during his April speech at George Washington University.
The failed votes gave Democrats more fodder to argue that the congressional budget process has officially stalled out--a development they will also loudly ascribe to GOP intransigence on the campaign trail.
One week ago, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) made it clear that Democrats would be throwing up their hands. "There's no need to have a Democratic budget in my opinion," Reid told the Los Angeles Times. "It would be foolish for us to do a budget at this stage." Reid and other Democrats argue that the only path forward is to wait for a resolution to the multiple bipartisan budget efforts that are still under way, including the budget strategy group led by Vice President Joe Biden.
Meanwhile, Republicans note that today marks the 757th day since the Senate has passed a budget.
(Photo of Reid speaking to reporters following Wednesday night votes: J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
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