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Congress: Vote-A-Rama

“A big chunk of the upcoming Senate budget vote-a-rama will be a waste of time — like votes on senators’ pet causes or generic partisan issues,” Politico writes. “But there’s some good news buried in the dozens of amendments that are coming across the Senate floor between now and Friday: A handful of them will matter. None of them will actually become law, but some will test support for important bills to come later this year or beyond. Others could define possible 2016 candidates. And others still could tell President Barack Obama whether he’s got a shot at a grand bargain.” 

Watch, in particular: the Ryan budget, an internet sales tax, school choice, drones, medical device tax repeal, balanced budget amendments, cost-benefit analysis requirements (upsetting watchdog groups that think it will make it harder to implement Dodd-Frank, for example).

National Journal: “Senators of both parties promise to offer a raft of amendments Friday as the chamber debates its first budget in four years, taking advantage of the rare procedural chance to force the opposing party into an unlimited number of politically tough votes. … The opening of the amendment floodgates could have implications both for vulnerable Democratic incumbents in 2014 and for governing in the rest of 2013. The series of votes, which could spill into the wee hours of Saturday morning, has the potential to act as a release valve, easing pent-up partisan pressure in the chamber — depending, of course, on how the evening proceeds.”

“Moving on two fronts, the Republican-controlled House on Thursday voted to keep the government running for the next six months while pushing through a tea-party flavored budget for next year that would shrink the government by another $4.6 trillion over the next decade,” AP writes. “The spending authorization on its way to the White House for President Barack Obama’s signature leaves in place $85 billion in spending cuts to the Pentagon and domestic programs. The result will be temporary furloughs for hundreds of thousands of federal workers and contractors over the next six months and interrupted, slower or halted services and aid for many Americans. The nonbinding GOP budget plan for 2014 and beyond calls for a balanced budget in 10 years’ time and sharp cuts in safety-net programs for the poor and other domestic programs.” 

“A brief reprieve in the fiscal battles between President Obama and a divided Congress will allow two contentious and politically divisive domestic issues — guns and immigration — to take center stage in the national debate this spring,” USA Today writes. 

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told Hispanic media outlets yesterday: “About 90 percent of the issues, including the path to citizenship, are settled.”

“Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday that after the congressional recess, he will bring to the Senate floor a gun-violence bill that will include measures to expand background checks for gun purchases, strengthen trafficking laws and improve school safety,” USA Today writes. “Reid acknowledged that the background-check language he is including in the bill could change in the final product.”

As NBC’s Kasie Hunt writes, “it's still far from certain that the Senate can pass the background check provision, now considered the centerpiece of President Barack Obama's gun control legislation. Senators are still negotiating the exact language to be used in that provision. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin is still talking with Republicans about background checks-- and is in touch with the National Rifle Association -- in an attempt to find compromise language that could garner significant Republican support. Senate aides say they'll substitute in that compromise language after the Senate returns from recess -- if they can achieve such a compromise.” 

Vice President Biden tried a little Catholic guilt on members of Congress yesterday during an event with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg: "It must be awful to be in public office and concluding — that even though you might believe you should take action — that you can't take action, because of the political consequence you may face. What a heck of a way to make a living." 

But National Journal makes this point: “these polls” showing broad support for background checks and an assault-weapons ban “may gloss over some complexities in public opinion on gun control, and explain why Democrats are having so much trouble winning congressional support for even the most modest gun regulations.” More: “Much of the poll numbers don't capture the nuances of public opinion. For example, there is a significant difference in the level of passion of voters on the two sides of the issue. While members of the National Rifle Association or conservative gun owners hone in on this issue, gun-control proponents may not register that sort of excitement. The level of voter passion may also depend on where the respondents live.” 

And: “Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, the director of social policy and politics for Third Way, said her group has conducted polling in some of these states where gun violence isn’t a major issue. When they asked if they thought policies would be effective in reducing crime, most respondents said it wouldn’t. When asked if legislation was addressing a problem in their community or somewhere far away, most respondents went with the latter. The support for gun-control policies then is ‘really high but shallow,’ Hatalsky said. ‘People will support this and they think it’s a good idea, but they don’t feel super deeply about it,’ Hatalsky said. ‘They’re not convinced that it will necessarily work and that it will work to change their own lives.’”