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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Mr. Cynical hits another three-bagger

Thursday, March 26, while the U.S. Senate was considering amendments to the new federal budget resolution, a two minute debate took place on one of the many offered:

The PRESIDING OFFICER. There is now 2 minutes equally divided prior to a vote on the Schatz amendment NO. 1063.   The Senator from Hawaii.
   Mr. SCHATZ . I ask unanimous consent that my amendment No.  be modified with the changes at the desk.
   The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
   The amendment, as modified, is as follows:
    At the appropriate place, insert the following:
    The Chairman of the Committee on the Budget of the Senate may revise the allocations of a committee or committees, aggregates, and other appropriate levels in this resolution for one or more bills, joint resolutions, amendments, amendments between the Houses, motions, or conference reports relating to ensuring equal treatment of married couples, which may include ensuring that all legally married spouses have access to Social Security benefits after the death of their spouse and to benefits under laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, by the amounts provided in such legislation for those purposes, provided that such legislation would not increase the deficit over either the period of the total of fiscal years 2016 through 2020 or the period of the total of fiscal years 2016 through 2025.
   Mr. SCHATZ . All legally married, same-sex couples deserve equal treatment under the law, regardless of
[Page: S2006]
where they live. But right now, eligibility for spousal benefits provided under the Social Security Act and by the Department of Veterans Affairs is determined by a place-of-residence standard. That means that legally married same-sex couples who move to a State that doesn't recognize same-sex marriage could be denied Social Security and veterans survivor benefits.
   Plain and simple, this is wrong, and this doesn't reflect our American values. This amendment will fix this and provide equal protection under the law and the Social Security and veterans benefits that gay Americans have earned. I would be happy to entertain a voice vote in support of this amendment if the majority is amenable.
   The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Wyoming.
   Mr. ENZI. Mr. President, it has come to my attention that is not going to be possible [to hold a voice vote- Waldo] on this amendment.
   Again, this is a statement that has to be handled by the committee of jurisdiction and has no real effect. So I would ask that everybody vote ``no'' on this one.
   The PRESIDING OFFICER. The question is on agreeing to the Schatz amendment No. 1063 , as modified.
   Mr. Schatz . I ask for the yeas and nays.
   The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there a sufficient second?
   There appears to be a sufficient second.
   The clerk will call the roll.
   The senior assistant legislative clerk called the roll.
   The yeas and nays resulted--yeas 57, nays 43, as follows:
[Roll call Vote No. 121 Leg.]
 (No. 1063
Writing in National Journal, Lauren Fox underscored an emerging split in GOP ranks the otherwise largely symbolic vote represents:

It was one of the toughest votes of the night for Republicans.

The amendment—which hit the floor more than 10 hours into the Senate's budget vote-a-rama—allows same-sex spouses to be eligible for the same Veteran's Affairs benefits and Social Security benefits afforded to heterosexual couples.

Huddled together, poring over language authored by Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz, potential 2016 presidential candidates and senators facing reelection next cycle walked away from an amendment clearly divided on gay marriage—a marker of how the party's evangelical wing and more moderate branch are still in conflict over the issue.

It wasn't the first time during Friday's marathon that the party's presidential candidates voted one way and its vulnerable senators up for reelection in swing states voted the other, as they court two decidedly different audiences.

Republican Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mark Kirk of Illinois, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska—all up for reelection in 2016—voted yes on the amendment. Kirk, Portman, and Murkowski had already publicly come out in support of gay marriage. Still other surprising yes votes included Republican Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Thom Tillis of North Carolina.

The amendment pit two Republican priorities against one another. Senators were forced to choose between veterans' benefits and social conservatism, leading some to wait until the bitter end to vote. At one point, Corker led the discussion around the table before the vote and at another point, Schatz moseyed over to make one more pitch to the GOP. Some were still unmoved.

After waiting until the very end, Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who faces reelection in 2016, voted no. He stood with all of the potential 2016 candidates: Sens. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Lindsey Graham.

The amendment passed 57-to-43.

Other Capitol Hill writers called the Tillis vote something of a surprise, given that he spearheaded the 2012 North Carolina constitutional amendment ban on marriage equality- even getting it on the GOP primary voting day rather than the iffier general election ballot- took campaign money from the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage, then hired their lawyers to launch a tax-payer funded appeal of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals' decision, and that of two NC federal judges in the wake of it- overturning the state ban.

Longtime Tillis watchers, however, know the vote- on which he has made no public comment- was just a cynical exercise by a man who excels in cynicism when it comes to exploiting his supporters' antigay bias: in 2012, during his campaign to ban same-sex marriage, Tillis told a college group it would be repealed within twenty years.

Easier to decipher is the yes vote of North Carolina's other Senator, Richard Burr. He is up for re-election next year, and may have a close race. 

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