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US Senate girds for marathon 'vote-a-rama'

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

US senators eager to head home for the congressional recess plan to pull what could become an all-nighter Friday in a rare, free-wheeling session known as a "vote-a-rama."

For the first time in four years, the 100 members of the Senate will pack the chamber for 10 hours or more, beginning at 3:00 pm Friday, for dozens of back-to-back votes on amendments to the Senate's pending budget resolution.

Because of a quirk of Senate rules peculiar to the budget, lawmakers may offer an unlimited number of amendments to the budget resolution between the end of debate and the vote itself.

More than 400 amendments have been filed, according to Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who called the vote-a-rama in order to get the 2014 budget done and dusted before the two-week recess.

"Everyone's going to be tired," Reid warned fellow members.

The amendments need not be related to budget matters, and most amendments won't pass. But some will carry a political sting that could be used against lawmakers if and when they vote against them.

Republican Richard Burr introduced a measure to repeal what he describes as the $1 trillion tax resulting from President Barack Obama's healthcare law.

It move will fail, but Republicans will use the "no" votes to tar Democrats as tax-and-spend liberals.

It all has a few senators in highly partisan Washington grumbling.

"It's been a long four years without vote-a-rama. I can't wait," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell deadpanned to AFP.

Democrat Mark Warner used a colorful metaphor to highlight the necessary-but-painful nature of the exercise. "It's a little bit like an enema," he whispered.

Reid told members to expect 35 or more votes Friday, in a session that could well run overnight and into the weekend.

Discipline will be key. Debate between votes will be held to just 30 seconds -- not minutes -- per side.

A third of the senators have never experienced the free-for-all, which last took place in 2009, the most recent year Obama's Democrats tabled a budget.

One of the newcomers is Senator John Boozman, who said he is filling his pockets with granola bars and looking forward to jumping into the legislative scrum. But he and others will need to be on their toes.

"These things come up very rapidly, and it does really force you to think about some issues that you hadn't thought about much," he said.

Republican John McCain, who has seen his fair share of vote-a-ramas, dismissed the event as a "charade."

"It has zero impact on anybody, especially now, when everybody knows that the House and the Senate budgets will never reconcile," he argued.

The House has passed its own plan which aims to balance the budget in 10 years by slashing spending, reforming entitlements and repealing "Obamacare."

The Senate Democrat blueprint includes a combination of targeted spending cuts and new tax revenue.

Neither budget is expected to pass the full Congress.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130322/us-senate-girds-marathon-vote-rama