Never underestimate the value of capable Congressional staffers, or of senators who can spot an opportunity.
The U.S. Senate voted on dozens of amendments during a marathon session starting on February 4 before passing the fiscal year 2021 budget resolution at 5:23 am the next day.
The “vote-a-rama” is “the price the majority party pays to approve a budget resolution,” Jennifer Scholtes and Caitlin Emma explained in Politico. The budget reconciliation process allows the Senate majority to move an important bill, like the next COVID-19 relief package, with only 51 votes, rather than the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster. On the other hand, senators in the minority can use the unlimited amendment process “to set up inconvenient or embarrassing show votes that might come back to haunt members of the majority during a reelection campaign,” in Ed Kilgore’s words.
Iowa’s Senator Joni Ernst prepared for this battle and got one of the roll calls she wanted. All but two members of the Democratic caucus opposed her language on immigration law enforcement, prompting Ernst to declare in a news release, “Majority of Democrats Side With Violent Illegal Criminals.”
However, she failed to force Democrats into a corner over what her staff called “blocking a drastic federal minimum wage hike during a pandemic.”