Interactive: What would the Senate’s budget look like with all 500-plus amendments?

By Chris Wilson

The federal budget the U.S. Senate passed in the raw hours of Saturday morning contained so many proposed amendments that some of its amendments had their own amendments. The chamber voted on only a few dozen of the 572 amendments that were filed to the 94-pagebill, consigning the rest to the congressional equivalent of Bartleby’s dead letter office.

This legislative jetsam is far from meaningless. Each amendment, whether or not it passed, represents its author’s aspirations for the federal government. They range from individual number-tinkering —"On page6, line 5, decrease the amount by $1,249,000,000"—to provisions about genetically engineered fish and measures opposing the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty. (That one was approved 53-46.)

Legislation is the source code for America, written out by Congress as commands that the executive branch executes. Like any sufficiently complex program, a lot of proposed edits never make the final version.

In that spirit, this interactive version of the Senate budget includes almost every amendment at the exact place in the bill where it proposes to make a change. As you scroll through the pages, you’ll see red and blue dots indicating an amendment was proposed to change that line. Click the line to see what the amendment was. Think of it like Microsoft Word’s track changes feature applied to legislation.

Navigation to the right colors each page by partisan split —red for a lot of Republican-sponsored amendments, blue for Democratic sponsors,and purple for a lot of both. A thicker bar means more edits on that page.

A large number of Republican-sponsored edits appear on pages 4, 5 and 6, for example, because these pages contain top-line figures for federal spending over the next 10 years. Virtually all of those edits, unsurprisingly, propose to reduce those figures.

On page58, several Democrats’ entries tinker with language about energy conservation and the environment, as well as a few Republican edits. John Hoeven, R-ND, for example, proposed to strike line 3 of that page, which relates to greenhouse gas levels. That amendment did not pass.

Given that the Senate’s budget legislation is somewhat imaginary to begin with—it’s a blueprint that will likely be overridden by yet another continuing resolution—these amendments represent an idealized vision of how the government should operate. That does not mean they are not earnest.One does not legislate without assuming the risk that one will create a law.

It is difficult to train a computer to understand exactly what each amendment aspires to do, so this interactive is missing 20 of the more complexly worded amendments. It also does not capture the 16 amendments to other amendments. You can see the code here. Questions or comments always welcome