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Senate Budget Passes as Vote-A-Rama Wraps (Updated)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 4:20 a.m. | The Senate approved the GOP’s budget blueprint on a 52-46 vote following an epic vote-a-rama that featured dozens of test votes on everything from carbon taxes to 
Social Security benefits for same-sex marriages
. Two Republicans eyeing the White House voted no: Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, but otherwise the vote was along party lines.  

“By passing a balanced budget that emphasizes growth, common sense and the needs of the middle class, Republicans have shown that the Senate is under new management and delivering on the change and responsible government the American people expect,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement.  

“The Democrat-led Senate for years refused not only to pass a balanced budget, but any budget at all. Those days are over, and the proof is passage of a balanced plan with ideas that Congress’ nonpartisan analysts tell us would boost jobs, raise income and drive economic growth,” the Kentucky Republican added.  

There were moments of drama, like two vulnerable GOP senators up in 2016 switching their votes to “yes” to back paid sick leave, giving it 61 votes. Senators even voted to nix their own health insurance benefits on a 52-46 vote around 2:30 a.m. — a vote David Vitter of Louisiana has been seeking for nearly two years, much to the consternation of many of his colleagues.  

Earlier the Senate Republicans eyeing the presidency jostled for position on war funding. Fairly early in the proceedings, Sen. Joe Manchin III came through the press gallery with a box full of Julia’s Original pepperoni rolls — baked in West Virginia — which he handed and tossed to reporters.  

There were moments of tedium, with reporters, staffers, and senators trading gallows humor about how long it would take the Senate to dispense with the hundreds of nonbinding amendments filed to the budget.  

At one point after midnight, Budget Staff Director Eric Ueland cheerfully suggested they were “just getting started” and might go for a 24-hour vote-a-rama.  

Senators started giving up on holding roll call amendments — and accidentally voting the wrong way and needing to make changes toward the end.  

Staffers had long since packed away the leftovers of the Rockland’s BBQ that was provided for dinner at the behest of McConnell by the time Republicans huddled in the Strom Thurmond room after midnight to try and wrap up the annual exercise in unlimited nonbinding amendments.  

An earlier effort by both party’s leaders to end the budget debate fell fairly flat. Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., offered to pay for dinner if the Senate could finish up its work by 11:30 p.m., a remark that elicited laughter. Reid, who is also up in 2016, said he didn’t know of a single vote held during a vote-a-rama that had ever cost a senator a seat, and urged his colleagues to move on.

Lawmakers read books to pass the time and watched March Madness basketball games in the cloakrooms. CQ Roll Call spotted Sen. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., watching a game on his tablet in the Ohio Clock corridor.

Senators and aides attributed the slow pace of voting for much of the evening to those very competitive NCAA tournament basketball games. Multiple GOP senators predicted they would become more efficient after the games ended, and while the Republican Conference needed to huddle for what one of them called a “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” meeting, the final tranche of amendments moved quickly.

By consent, the Senate agreed to waive the reading of the names of senators for the final few amendments after a request by New York Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer. That was an effort to speed up the voting even beyond having senators vote from their desks.

With the budget resolution passing well after 3 a.m., the senators put off working on the House-passed “doc fix” bill.

That sweeping Medicare measure will be considered after the two-week break, McConnell said, and he expects it to pass with the Senate with overwhelming support.

One long-suffering piece of legislation — a version of the Portman-Shaheen energy efficiency bill — was voiced by the Senate after 4 a.m. Only two senators were on the floor — Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.

Sarah Chacko and Hannah Hess contributed to this report.

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