The Budget Vote-a-rama Part II

Friday, March 22, 2013

I had a brief chat with my Beloved Husband part way through the second day of the Senate Budget Vote-a-rama, and he asked me if I was giving a Facebook update or Twitter feed.  I try not to use social media at work, so here is the general timeline of what my day looked like on the second day of the Senate Budget legislation.

8:50 AM.  I arrive at the office.  It’s critical to get into the building before 9 AM when the security lines get very long from the rush of staffers all arriving simultaneously.  Happily, my two favorite security guards are working the door this morning because they are the most efficient team I’ve seen.

8:59 AM  The staff have pretty much all arrived, and everyone has brought provisions for what is expected to be a long day and night.  Today’s menu:

Dunkin Donuts Coffee

Dunkin Donuts Munchkins (although not enough chocolate ones)

Stop n’ Shop M&M and chocolate chip cookies

A huge box of individual bags of potato chips

Stop n’ Shop Cinnamon knots

Starbucks Coffee

Clementines (a big box)

Girl Scout Cookies (Samosas)

Laura’s Vote-a-rama brownies.  Apparently turning on the oven qualifies an item as “homemade” even if they are from a box mix

The supplies are kept in what is known as “the spot,” which is on the marble mantle in one of the central rooms on the opposite side of the hall.  I think across the hall a good place for all the food.

9:00 AM  The Senate comes to order and debate continues.  As you may recall, there are 50 hours of debate on a budget resolution in the Senate, and we started on Wednesday night.  By Unanimous consent, they considered the clock to run overnight.  Senator  King from Vermont is presiding.  I dive back into vote recommendations, having written 16 the day before and starting with 10 amendments on my list.

9:15 AM  The amendments are into the 500 numbers.  The first amendment on the budget was 136, so we are around 375 amendments filed.  The interns are struggling to get caught up with transferring the information from the Senate amendment tracker into the shared Bennet office spreadsheet.  The interns had worked until 6 PM on Thursday night, and then one of our front office staffers stayed for several hours after that to keep up with the work, but there’s still a backlog from after she left around 8:30 PM.

10:30 AM  One of the Legislative Assistants (LAs) decides to transport most of the sweets back to our room and places them on the marble mantle right next to my desk.  I am NOT on board with this plan.  Not!  Well, OK, I’ll have just one brownie…

Keep writing vote recs.

10:57 AM  The number of filed amendments goes over 400.  Still more vote recs.  There are so many it’s hard to stay focused on one to the end and not get distracted by starting another one.

11:00 AM  We vote on a batch of six amendments.  Sen. Heinrich (D-NV) presiding.

12:15 PM  We hit 450 total amendments.  Focus, focus.  Eat lunch while writing vote recs.

12:30 PM  Two hours of debate scheduled before the Vote-a-rama begins.  Sen. Heitkamp (D-ND) presiding.

1:00 PM  It finally penetrates that my LA is up to his eyeballs in the details of dropping a completely separate bill today.  If it doesn’t get done today, it can’t be done for the next two weeks while we are in recess.  Thus my LA has given me the ultimate compliment that I can handle the huge job of dealing with the vote recs while he’s juggling another huge responsibility.  I’m very honored… and now a little more stressed.

1:15 PM  I give up on my usual resolution to avoid caffeine and make myself some caffeinated tea.

2:00 PM  Yesterday, I wrote 16 vote recommendations in 12 hours.  Today, I’ve already written 18.  They get easier as I go since many are on related topics so I only have to tweak the arguments instead of starting from scratch.   Still, each has to be framed to match the amendment as it is worded rather than the general topic.

2:35 PM On the Senate Floor,  debate time is done, the Vote-a-rama is scheduled to begin anytime.  In the meantime, a quorum call starts while the leadership tries to agree on what amendments are in the first batch.  I eventually learned that the Senate doesn’t use terms as normal as “batch.”  A set of amendments is referred to as a “tranche.”

3:00 PM  We get a tentative list of the first tranche of amendments.  With 500+ amendments in the system, two or three of the amendments we will vote on haven’t even been filed yet.

3:01 PM  Included in the first tranche are several side-by-side amendments.  These are amendments that address the same issue from different perspectives.   If it were Alice in Wonderland, one character might say, “We should paint the white roses blue.”  The Red Queen might be in favor of painting the roses, but she definitely wouldn’t choose blue as the color.  Thus there might be two amendments:

Amendment #1:  We should paint the white roses blue

Amendment #2:  We should paint the white roses red

People can vote for either, both, or neither.

3:30 PM We get the list of amendments in the first tranche, 11 of which are first degree and 3 are second degree (amendments to amendments, thank you Congressional Research Service for training me so well!).  Five have numbers over 600, so it’s a scramble to get the vote recs prepped.  At this point, everyone in the office is a veteran, and vote recs are completely undaunting.  There is still an adrenaline scramble to assemble the information quickly, but it passes just as quickly after our part is done.

3:45 PM  Start voting on the first tranche of amendments.  Senator Murphy (D-CT) is presiding.  On the schedule:

One amendment (passed by voice vote)

It looks like a total of 14 amendments, although there are 40 minutes of debate scheduled in after #8..  Each amendment gets called up, there is a minute of debate on each side, and then ten minutes of voting.  We receive regular emails each time the voting begins on a new amendment.

5:20 PM  One of the LAs reads today’s news and notices an obituary for the author of, “Things Fall Apart.”  That seems rather appropriate for the day.  Senator Kaine (D-VA) is presiding.  Still voting on the amendments in the first tranche.

5:42 PM  The brownies are gone, as are the cinnamon knots.  There are four clementines remaining, and the cookies are going fast.  I feel very popular and loved since I am surrounded by people.  They may just be after the remaining cookies, but I can pretend.

5:43 PM  One of the press staff enters the office and announces, “Vote-a-ramas are very boring.”  I couldn’t agree more.  It’s a scramble when we get a new list of amendments, but in between, it’s a lot of “hurry up and wait.”

6:15 PM  The office takes a foosball stress relief break.   Yes, we have a foosball table in the middle of the LA room

6:19 PM  We are in the midst of a 40 minute debate on the Marketplace Fairness Act, which addresses whether internet merchants should have to collect a sales tax.  This was a particularly fascinating debate since it was absolutely not divided by party lines.  There were senators from both parties on each side, and the debate was excellent at exploring the issue.  We should have more of those.

Amendment 675 has been filed, so that’s 540 amendments in the system for this bill.

Senator Mo Cowan, John Kerry’s replacement from Massachusetts is presiding.  Senator Cowan wears bow-ties, which I like, and in spite of his temporary status, he is giving the job everything he’s got.

6:55 PM  We get the next tranche of possible amendments.  None for me.

7:15 PM  My LA suggests that there’s nothing more I can do, so I’m welcome to go home.  Right around that time, we get the actual next tranche of amendments, and there’s an amendment that was in my area.  My LA said, “I’m on it!” and I was pretty thrilled to be able to say, “There’s a draft in the system!”

7:30 PM  I exit the building and pass a staffer entering with a stack of five pizzas.  It’s going to be a long night.

The night of the Vote-a-rama

The night of the Vote-a-rama

The rest of the timing I will summarize from the email traffic I read the next morning.

9:00 PM  An email exchange among the Fellows seeks to identify if there’s any coffee available.

11:00 PM  A second email exchange among the Fellows starts with a plaintive, “Is anyone else still here?”  Indeed there were quite a few Fellows still in the building, although the House fellows were smug that they were not at work.

12:01 AM  One of the fellows emails that the staff gallery overlooking the Senate floor is open, and several Fellows gather to watch the action.

Multiple tranches of amendments sweep through the system, more and more of which are addressed by voice vote rather than roll call votes which take 10 minutes each.

4:56 AM  The Senate budget passes by a margin of 50-49





1 Comment

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One response to “The Budget Vote-a-rama Part II

  1. Heather Pence

    Thanks for the explanationn of Votearama. I hope you suggested that the next buyer of munchkins should up the quantity of chocolate ones. At donut day when I was at a previous job, a different person brought in donuts every week and was instructed “Lot’s of Boston Cremes or die!”

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