THE IMPORTANCE OF MEANINGLESS AMENDMENTS.

In response to the Great Amendment Hunt of Ought-Nine, commenter Badger asked, "These are pretty silly, but isn't the House going to make mincemeat out of these things once it goes to conference/reconciliation/de-crazifying committee?"

Probably. Most of these amendments were meant to "instruct" the budget conferees. They will be duly ignored. They exist more to put the Senate on record than to actually change federal law. Indeed, many of them were effectively meaningless: In one case, the Senate voted to instruct conferees to bring a point of order against any legislation that would let tax rates rise to their pre-2001 levels. That, of course, is the very point of the budget.

But that amendment will be ignored. Tax rates will rise. The budget will pass. So why get exercised? In short, the Senate is now on record against a lot of policies it means to pass. It is on record against all the particulars, for instance, of cap and trade legislation. You can imagine the ads now. "In April, Senator so-and-so promised not to raise energy taxes on hardworking Americans. In June, under pressure from liberal interest groups, she flip-flopped. Can we really trust Senator so-and-so?" Those ads, you can argue, will emerge anyway. But why not defeat the amendments now? At the least, it's good precedent. Republicans, after all, will try this again. And their success this week will likely embolden them. The Republican sense is that Democrats are afraid to defend the implications of their policy priorities, particularly on cap and trade. That looked true this week.

There's also, among budget wonks, a sense that Democrats aren't taking this seriously. Some said they just wanted to speed through the amendments so they could rush a budget vote next week. That way, the package will still qualify for the 100 Days label. Others suggested that they didn't see the point of fighting hollow amendments. Either way, a lot of time was wasted, and a lot of inanity was passed, and all of it to score meaningless political points. As one budget wonk confided to me, "I said to some colleagues last night that either you ought to scrap the budget process or you ought to scrap the U.S. Senate. But the two together just don't make sense."

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