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Reid’s Wishful Budget Thinking?

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid warned Monday that a failure to quickly finish up a 2013 stopgap spending bill could restrict the time that senators have to battle it out over the 2014 budget resolution later this week.

But Senate Republicans are crying foul, largely because they know they can take all the time they want when it comes to budget votes.

“The more time we spend on this continuing resolution, the less time we’ll have to vote on amendments to the budget resolution,” Reid said in opening remarks on the Senate floor.

As a practical matter, Reid and other Democrats hope that all sides will agree to restrict debate and the continuous voting sequence, known as the vote-a-rama, on budget amendments in order to escape the Capitol for a two-week Easter and Passover break.

“Senators should expect several long nights and late votes. And we will stay as long as it takes to complete work on both the continuing resolution and the budget resolution — even if that means working into the weekend and the Easter-Passover recess,” Reid said.

But Reid’s threat about an abbreviated budget debate may just be wishful thinking. The tools Reid would normally use to limit amendments are not available when considering a budget resolution on the Senate floor. And a Senate Republican aide said Monday that the GOP suspects Reid is trying to use the looming recess as a way to create pressure on members to voluntarily curb their budget amendments. That could also have the side benefit of minimizing the number of politically difficult positions Democratic senators might have to take on those amendments.

Another Senate aide, noting that much of the delay on the stopgap spending bill comes from negotiations over which amendments will get votes, accused Reid of attempting to run the Senate like the House.

“Majority Leader Reid’s desire to be a Rules Committee of One is by far the greatest source of obstruction and delay in the U.S. Senate,” the aide said. “If he would simply allow votes on amendments instead of trying to pick which amendments senators can offer, we would have already passed the CR.”

Of course, there are almost 100 amendments pending to the spending bill to keep the government funded through September, and Reid wants to finish that bill before moving to the budget.

There is some hope that the stopgap spending measure, known as a continuing resolution or CR, could begin moving more quickly. Reid said Monday that Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., and her ranking member Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., were making good progress in processing amendments, but that no deal had been reached. Without a deal, the Senate will vote on limiting debate to the measure Monday evening.

“There is still hope that we could vote on a limited number of amendments and move to final passage of this bill tonight,” Reid said. “Sens. Mikulski and Shelby have worked very hard on this measure, and I am optimistic that we will find a path forward. But one way or another, we will move forward with this bill today.”

As for the budget, the Senate will be locked into 50 hours of floor debate on the resolution regardless of when Reid brings it up. Special rules for budget debates dictate the timing. Once the time expires, senators face an unlimited number of up-or-down votes on amendments to the resolution, leading to a marathon voting session that aides have previously expected to take place Thursday of this week, perhaps lingering into the wee hours of Friday morning. The voting can go on as long as Senators demand votes on their amendments.

Reid did later mention the possibility of unlimited amendments.

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