LIVE UPDATES: What's Happening at the Senate Vote-A-Rama

Nancy Cook, Shane Goldmacher and Kristin Roberts
National Journal

4:33 a.m.

A fitting end. With a vote on the budget imminent, Mitch McConnell declares, at 4:33 a.m., "This is one of the Senate's finest days in recent years."

4:31 a.m.

The final amendment vote belongs to Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and it passes. 

4:05 a.m.

Patty Murray thanks all the Senate pages. Standing ovation.

3:54 a.m.

The vote-a-rama has hit the 12-hour mark.

The Senate has been steadily working through -- and defeating -- amendments offered by some of the chamber's most conservative members for about half an hour. 

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, briefly stumbled over the Bill of Rights, citing the First Amendment for the right to bear arms. He quickly corrected himself, and blamed the late hour.

3:27 a.m.

Vitter amendment fails 44-54.

3:21 a.m.

Sen. David Vitter, R-Louisiana, bring up a bill to require photo ID to vote -- a hot-button issue.

3:15 a.m.

Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., requested to use electronic devices on the floor during the final set of votes. Reid objected. But the reality is that iPhones, Blackberries and iPads are already strewn about the chamber.

Sen. Robert Mendendez, D-N.J., who heads the foreign relations committee, warns senators about setting foreign policy "at 3 in the morning," saying it could set "dangerous" precedents and create instability in the Middle East.

3:05 a.m.

After an hour break in voting as staff and senators huddled over what to do next, the Senate has announced it will proceed on a batch of about a dozen votes. Patty Murray requested senators sit in their seats, a relatively rare request, to speed up the process and cut the total time per vote to only seven and a half minutes.

“The end is in sight, folks,” tweeted Adam Jentleson, Harry Reid’s spokesman. 

1:45 a.m.

Harry Reid pulled off his glasses and rubbed his eyes during the exchange between Patty Murray and Jeff Sessions over further amendments. Murray accused the Republicans of "filibustering by amendment." Sessions said of his GOP colleagues, "This may be their only opportunity."

Murray pleaded for an end, citing the Senate's "elderly" members. 

1:41 a.m.

Patty Murray says more than 60 amendments have been considered and urges colleagues to consider wrapping it up. "We had amendments on virtually every topic here tonight, including the budget," she said.

Jeff Sessions and David Vitter answer for the minority: No.

1:33 a.m.

On voice vote, senators agree to take 20 percent of their salaries and dedicate to a charity of their choice so that lawmakers can feel what workers furloughed by sequestration are feeling. (A few loud "no" votes caused King to reorder the voice vote not once but twice.)

1:28 a.m.

Patty Murray’s working hard, and knows it. Asked by another senator how many more tranches of amendments would be seen, she indicated people just need to remain cool and let the process keep working itself through. “I don’t think anybody here can say I haven’t been working my tail off” to get what have been dozens of amendments considered quickly.

1:08 a.m.

Angus King seems tired. He just miscalled a voice vote (no instead of yes), leading Republicans to threaten a more time-consuming roll call. Patty Murray steps in and claims, to laughter, that she hadn’t heard it properly, so they do it all again. Onward.

12:41 a.m.

Senate Republicans try to unsuccessfully pass another amendment that defunds, in some way, the Affordable Care Act: one of the president's signature policy accomplishments. Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa compares their ongoing efforts to dismantle the health care law to a magical cloak from the Harry Potter novels that just makes objects disappear. This comparison makes everyone on the floor, including Sen. Murray, laugh. As it gets late, people are getting a little punchy. Onward to more amendments!

12:31 a.m.

Sessions’ immigration bill fails, 43-56.

12:29 a.m.

Mike Lee on Twitter promising a late night/early morning: "Votes on one Lee amendment, several more to go. It's going to be a late night as we do the work we were sent to do."

12:06 a.m.

Fun fact: As you watch Sen. Murray manage the floor over the next few hours and organize amendments, remember: She taught pre-school before she was elected to Congress.

12:04 a.m.

#Votearama is trending on Twitter in D.C.

12:00 a.m.

Potentially interesting immigration marker due soon. Expecting to see Jeff Sessions offer a measure aimed at ensuring illegal immigrants granted any legal status under whatever immigration reform emerges from Congress, should it emerge, are denied access to free health care either under Medicaid or ‘Obamacare’.

11:59 p.m.

Heading into the early hours of Saturday morning, this is the next batch of amendments:

  • · Cardin #706 (carbon emissions);
  • · Inhofe #359 (green house gases);
  • · Menendez #705 (immigration-health care-side-by-side to Sessions );
  • · Sessions #614 ( immigrants/health care);
  • · Merkley #696 (prosecutions of financial institutions);
  • · Roberts #187 (prohibit promotional materials PPACA);
  • · Menendez #619 (Flood loss mitigation);
  • · Portman #152 (medical malpractice reconciliation instructions);

11:47 p.m.

Tim Scott union dues bill failed (not because he didn't talk more about it).

11:36 p.m.

Picking up speed again. Voice vote approval of Sherrod Brown’s, D-Ohio, manufacturing amendment. Then Tim Scott, R-S.C., introduced his measure to prohibit automatic deduction of union dues from federal workers’ paychecks, but didn’t use up any time explaining or defending it. 

11:15 p.m.

These are the next four amendments up:

  • McCaskill #366 (federal and state credentialing)
  • Johnson (WI) #213 (Social Security/Medicare)
  • Brown #455 (manufacturing)
  • Scott #597 (federal workers-union fees)

11:08 p.m.

Majority Leader Reid on the floor praises the progress, but notes how much farther vote-a-rama has to go if all senators insist on a vote for their amendments. “We’re doing fine. We’re not at carnival stage yet. Let’s proceed and try to reach this with a lot of dignity.”

Patty Murray asks senators to “continue cooperating.”

11:07 p.m.

Mike Lee, R-UT, amendment requiring budgets spend more on Defense than on debt interest payments goes down, 46-53.

10:59 p.m.

Rand Paul goes to Twitter to thank Mitch McConnell for supporting his failed balanced budget amendment.

10:15 p.m.

Some amendments aim to make a political point and garner media attention. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., authored one to withhold pay for top staff at the president’s Office of Management and Budget for every day the president’s budget is late. It got Cornyn on Fox News on Thursday because it’s a finger-in-the-eye of President Obama, who still hasn’t authored a budget plan this year. The measure passed with a voice vote on Friday night.

9:44 p.m.

So, why do the votes on these amendments matter? Well, they lay down markers for future, tough policy discussions on everything from tax reform to the Keystone pipeline to the estate tax. Here are some interesting articles to peruse on the policy implications of these votes and amendments:

-- Why Keystone Wins Big

-- The Senate's Support for an Internet Sales Tax

-- Budget Votes that Highlight Immigration Debate

9:35 p.m.

Among the interesting amendments that have come up in the last 30 minutes: the Senate voted in favor of an amendment to reduce or repeal the estate tax, an idea put forward by Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia. But, the Senate did not vote in favor of eliminating the estate tax entirely, as Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina suggested.

The Senate also voted in favor (again, non-binding) of not touching benefits for disabled veterans if and when the debate over chained CPI re-emerges. That was Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders amendment. Chained CPI would tweak the cost-of-living calculation for federal benefits, including Social Security, and would result in less generous allotments for people. President Obama has put $130 billion in chained CPI changes on the table as part of a grand budget deal, much to the chagrin of his more liberal counterparts in Congress like Sanders.

Majority Leader Reid also is not a big fan of chained CPI and sat beside Sanders on the floor following the vote on that amendment.

8:44 p.m.

Wanna know why this vote-a-rama will last into the wee hours of the night? So far, 562 amendments have been filed, according to a Senate Democratic aide.

For context, the leadership aide writes: "The average number of votes on amendments and motions to recommit during Senate consideration of the last 10 Budgets is 32. And according to CRS, between 1993 and 2009, an average of 78 amendments to the budget resolution were offered per year during floor consideration." So, the 562 amendments far exceeds what we've seen historically on budget resolutions.

8:32 p.m.

Other topics coming up in amendments: Estate tax; chained CPI; funding for embassy security and law enforcement; something on mercury, more details as we get them; and an amendment from Maryland's Democratic Senator Cardin on pediatric dental care.

8:28 p.m.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid warns senators that, “This is not going to go on forever.” He continued, “We have 400 amendments that have been offered. We’re not going to do that.”

8:10 p.m.

Motion to waive Budget Act to consider Rubio's abortion measure fails. 

7:50 p.m.

The vote-a-rama seems to be moving a bit faster. The senators are now debating an amendment by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio that would prohibit people, apart from parents, from taking minors into another state to receive an abortion. Upcoming: An amendment from North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan on veterans (she's in a vulnerable seat in 2014) and an amendment about biennial budgeting i.e. moving the budget process to once every two years.

7:29 p.m.

All the vote-a-rama roll call votes have had 99 senators voting. That's because 89-year old Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-New Jersey, is absent.

7:25 p.m.

Alaska’s bipartisan pair of senators, Mark Begich, the Democrat, and Lisa Murkowski, the Republican, both back an amendment requiring labeling of a genetically modified “fake fish,” as Begich calls it. It passes with a voice vote.

7:08 p.m.

The amendment on taxing internet sales passed 75 to 24. Non-binding, of course, but interesting marker for future fights over overhauling the tax code.

7:01 p.m.

Lots of the amendments in this vote-a-rama include the phrase "deficit-neutral funds." What the heck does that mean? As Dylan Matthews of the Washington Post's Wonkblog explains: The words "deficit-neutral funds" offers "a way to discuss budget-irrelevant topics without violating budget reconciliation rules." In other words, they're a technical workaround that allows lawmakers to score  political points on a wider range of topics.

6:49 p.m.

How do Republicans sustain themselves ahead of a long evening of votes? BBQ. That’s what’s getting dished out in Sen. Mitch McConnell office during the sales tax debate: meat, baked beans, corn bread and salad.

6:30 p.m.

If you want a better sense of why overhauling the tax code may be difficult politically, just tune into the debate unfolding now on the Senate floor over a possible sales tax on internet purchases. The Senate has been fiercely debating this amendment for the past 30 minutes or so.

This amendment, put forth by Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin and Republican Sen. Mike Enzi, would express support for letting states collect sales taxes on internet purchases--even if those companies were headquartered out-of-state. And, the amendment pits the business interests of typical retail stores against internet competitors. Among others, the amendment is backed by big lobbying money including the country's largest retail trade association that says it is "strongly supporting this legislative effort aimed at leveling the sales tax playing field for all retailers."

Like many fights over taxes, the split between those in favor of the amendment and those against it does not fall along typical party lines. Among the biggest critics of the bill: Democratic Sens. Max Baucus and Ron Wyden and Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte

6:18 p.m.

The Senate is now in the midst of debating an amendment from Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, about states' ability to apply the sales tax to Internet purchases. 

6:03 p.m.

The Hoeven amendment supporting the Keystone XL pipeline passes 62-37, with the backing of 17, yes 17, Senate Democrats.

5:46 p.m.

“The hand-writing is on the wall. I see it,” Boxer says ahead of the next Keystone pipeline amendment vote, this one pushed by Hoeven, after she lost the first tally.

5:45 p.m.

Just how many amendments have been filed? As of 5:30, Senate Republicans have offered 371 budget amendments and Democrats have put together 154.

5:43 p.m.

Boxer’s Keystone amendment fails 33-66.

5:40 p.m.

Settling in for a long night here on the Senate side. For those just tuning into vote-a-rama, a reminder: This is Sen. Patty Murray's first time shepherding a Democratic budget to the floor. She's taken on other thankless tasks, like leading the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (when few thought the party would retain the Senate in 2012) and co-leading the super committee that failed to come up with a grand deficit deal. For background reading on Murray's political ascendance, I'd recommend two deep dives: an August 2011 look at her role leading the DSCC and a March 20 profile of her leadership on the Senate Budget Committee and as a foil to Rep. Paul Ryan, Chairman of the House Budget Committee and former Republican vice presidential candidate. Also, of note: Majority Leader Harry Reid really trusts her.

5:29 p.m.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-North Dakota, speaks against an amendment from Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., related to the Keystone XL pipeline. Boxer stands, arms crossed, steadily shaking her head in disagreement across the floor as Hoeven speaks.

5:20 p.m.

You know who seems to love vote-a-rama? Sen. Tom Coburn. The Oklahoma representative, who disdains wasteful government spending, has put forth over 50 amendments for this budget voting fest. If every senators did that, leadership would have to contend with 5,000 amendments. This doesn't mean that all of Coburn's amendments will make it to the floor, but it does show that Coburn is sticking with his usual playbook of digging into the budget and pointing out its myriad of flaws.

5:11 p.m.

The Whitehouse amendment falls short 41-58. 

5:04 p.m.

The vote on the Whitehouse amendment (#652) is the first of four in a row on energy and environment issues, including two related to the Keystone XL pipeline.

4:55 p.m.

Our first papal reference. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, cites Pope Francis in pushing his amendment related to a carbon tax. Whitehouse says that, “We ignore carbon pollution at our peril” and cites God when suggesting that not taking care of the environment “is an offense to His creation.”

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, rises in opposition and declares, “To have to oppose the pope is really ominous.”

4:18 p.m. 

Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray, D-Wash., issues a warning to her colleagues who choose to wander off the floor amid the coming flurry of votes. "You leave at your own peril," she says.

4:00 p.m.

More than 400 amendments to the Senate budget have been filed for Friday's marathon session on the floor. More amendments can be offered through the night, although senators won't necessarily demand votes on every measure.

Under the rules, it all comes to end only when there is no senator on the floor seeking a vote on an amendment. Senator Reid has said he hopes senators will only ask for votes on 25 to 30 of the amendments put forth.

Even so, the chamber likely will not end this "vote-a-rama" until after midnight.