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Parties use dead-end amendments to push political goals

WASHINGTON — Very little on a Republican wish list of amendments to a Senate jobs bill stands a chance of winning approval. But it's hardly an exercise in futility.

Offering amendments doomed to failure is a tactic both parties use to highlight their agendas and box the other side into politically awkward votes.

Those efforts include blocking President Barack Obama's health-care overhaul, repealing last year's rewrite of financial regulations, completing the fence along the border with Mexico, and prohibiting the Interior Department from classifying the sand dune lizard and prairie chicken as endangered species. The proposed changes come on a jobs bill the Senate has been debating for the past two weeks.

Democrats expected to lose their bid to repeal tax breaks for big oil companies, but forced a roll-call vote on it anyway. They also forced a roll call on a budget by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., that included a transformation of the popular Medicare program, which was defeated as expected.

What Republicans get from their going-nowhere amendments is an opportunity to please conservative and business constituencies and contributors, embarrass Democrats, and shine a spotlight on priorities they would push should they capture control of the Senate and perhaps the White House in next year's elections.

"Republicans can go back to their states and say, 'I fought for you and unfortunately the Democrats have the majority.' They can use these as campaign messages back in their states," said Ron Bonjean, a private GOP strategist who advises congressional leaders. He added: "It can cause potential contributors to open up their wallets."

The political tenor of the amendments underscores a year in which Congress is enacting little unless it is a necessity, bipartisan or harmless, such as naming federal buildings. With Republicans controlling the House and Democrats holding the Senate and White House, each party can derail the other's initiatives.

As a result, out of 3,415 bills introduced so far this year through Wednesday, just 18 have become law, according to the database of the Library of Congress.

This has left lawmakers often playing to November 2012, when voters might change the equation by awarding one party or the other control of the levers of government.

Some Democrats say the pile of GOP amendments to the economic development bill is designed to defeat it. They predict that once Democratic leaders block votes on most of those amendments, GOP senators will use that as an excuse to prevent the overall measure from coming to a final vote.

"All they want to do is play politics and say Democrats are ineffective, Obama is ineffective," Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chief author of the economic development legislation, said in an interview. "They're trying to kill this bill."

Parties use dead-end amendments to push political goals 06/18/11 [Last modified: Saturday, June 18, 2011 9:17pm]
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