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10 Senate Budget Amendments to Watch For

By the time the Senate’s budget vote-a-rama ends Friday night or Saturday, senators’ heads will be spinning from the dozens of votes they’ve taken in rapid succession.

The debate will give senators plenty of opportunities to play legislative tricks, but most amendments will be used as test votes on other policy proposals that could come up later in the year. If senators get 60 votes in favor of their proposals, the theory goes, they could actually break a filibuster of real legislation. That’s the clear intent behind more than a few amendments. Other amendments are designed to be used as bludgeons for future campaign ads. Here are 10 of the more intriguing proposals that have already surfaced, no particular order:

1.“No Budget, No Pay” for the White House

Sen. John Cornyn is putting a new spin on this GOP favorite, which generally targets members of Congress’ salaries if they fail to pass a budget. The Texas Republican’s version would withhold pay from officials at the Office of Management and Budget if the president does not present a budget by the February due date. (President Barack Obama is already almost two months late with his budget, but he is expected to release one in April. This is no small matter to Republicans, who generally like to bring it up as an amendment to show that it doesn’t have support in Congress.)

2. Abortion

No budget debate would be complete without a few hot-button, social issue amendments. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., has unveiled one to support the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act, which establishes a prohibition on abortions for sex-selection. Other red-meat issues all but certain to face votes include gun control and immigration matters.

3. The Paul Ryan budget

Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and other Senate Democrats have pushed for a vote on House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan’s spending blueprint, which the House approved Thursday. Why are Democrats pressing to hold this vote, one might ask: So they can talk about how terrible they think the Wisconsin Republican’s budget is before voting it down.

4. The Rand Paul budget

The Kentucky Republican’s budget is known for being among the most austere of all the GOP budget offerings. FreedomWorks praised his proposal recently for balancing within five years, allowing Social Security to be transferred to private accounts and moving to a flat tax. But senators have rarely agreed. In 2011, only seven lawmakers voted for it. (Paul hasn’t yet tipped his hand on whether he will actually offer his budget again this year.)

5. Ending automatic pay raises for members of Congress

Adoption of a budget amendment tied to that effort could send a sign of support for a bill by Vitter and Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri. Their proposal goes a step further than the moratorium on congressional pay increases that’s become a routine part of spending bills.

6. Internet sales tax

Sens. Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., and others will ask for a vote to express support for legislation to allow states to collect taxes on online purchases across state lines. The proposal has won the backing of many more retailers, but it faces vociferous opposition from states without their own sales taxes, such as New Hampshire. Plus, Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., opposes it.

7. Tax Revisions

There will be no shortage of test votes on the tax code as members stake out their ground for upcoming battles over a tax overhaul. Republican Sens. John Thune of South Dakota and Roy Blunt of Missouri took to the Senate floor to outline a series of proposals in opposition to the estate tax and any potential tax on carbon. The two Republican leaders also discussed an effort to reject higher taxes on charitable donations.

8. Tax Increases

Speaking of taxes, Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, wants to eliminate the budget’s directive to raise $975 billion in revenues. Grassley, a former Finance Committee chairman, warned that, in his view, there were not sufficient revenue raisers available to meet the demands of the budget instructions provided to the Senate’s tax writers. Republicans will instead push for a revenue-neutral tax code overhaul.

9. Obamacare

While votes to repeal the 2010 health care law are possible, a bipartisan group of Senators have set their sights on a much smaller piece of that measure. A 2.3 percent medical device tax has proved terribly unpopular, and Finance ranking member Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, and Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota are leading an effort to get senators on the record against it.

10. Chained CPI

Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., is continuing his push against changing the way increases in Social Security benefits are calculated. Sanders has an amendment that expresses opposition to a GOP plan to tweak the Consumer Price Index, which determines benefit payout levels.

Of course, the most important thing to remember is that, regardless of whether any amendment is adopted, budgets do not have the force of law.

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