March Madness: Senate Style

The U.S. Senate chamber as seen through the glass ceiling of the Capitol Visitors Center. Will the Senate remain in session all weekend? Perhaps. (JOHN T. BENNETT/Defense News)

For some, it promises to be appointment viewing. In fact, some in the Washington region likely will watch on their tablets and smartphones. It’s March Madness, after all. No, not the college basketball tournament.

Rather, it’s the contentious, bickering, plodding United States Senate. The upper chamber is on pace to be in session this weekend — your correspondent will explain why in a moment. And that means you can supplement your NCAA Tournament viewing with always-riveting floor debate — and, maybe, even a vote or two.

Eager to pass its $982 billion continuing resolution to keep the government running from March 28-Sept. 30 and begin work on a Democratic-crafted budget resolution, Senate Democrats and Republicans have just struck a deal. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced the chamber will have a dozen votes Wednesday afternoon that he hopes will assuage the concerns of a long list of senators.

A tired-looking Senate Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Richard Shelby, R-Ala., told me his “hope” is the chamber will have a final vote on the CR by this evening.

Senate Democratic leaders desperately want to begin work on the 2014 budget resolution crafted by SAC Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash. With a two-week recess slated to begin Friday, Reid is threatening the chamber will be in session through the weekend. Why, you ask?

I’m glad you did. Under Senate rules, budget resolutions require 50 hours of floor debate. The problem right now is the Senate cannot get deep into those required hours because bickering over CR amendments means that stopgap government-funding resolution is stalled…directly in the Murray budget’s path.

Reid is racing a House-crafted April 15 deadline, and a crowded post-recess agenda. On April 15, if the Senate has not passed a budget resolution, which it hasn’t in four years, lawmakers won’t get paid. And the chamber is set to take up a number of controversial bills on gun rights and immigration reform after the break.

So the first weekend of March Madness could be a working weekend for senators and staff members. That means you might be able to add a little legislative and political flavor to what Intercepts is sure to be your college hoops-laden weekend.

Just think of the possibilities.

On Saturday, one could take in yet another classic game-ending call from legendary CBS announcer Vern Lundquist if Michigan and Memphis, the Nos. 3 and 6 seeds in the Midwest Region, decide their potential third-round tilt in the final seconds. Perhaps his partner, Bill Raftery, will punctuate a Lundquist buzzer-beater call of a put back off the backboard with his signature: “…with a kiss!” call.

One could then, after a bathroom break and/or snack run, flip to C-SPAN2 for a little floor debate. Perhaps a Republican member or two will be on the floor, in the same now-frumpled suit he or she wore a few days before, slamming the new revenues the Democratic budget proposes.

It might get even better.

On Sunday, just imagine the excitement in CBS announcer Jim Nantz’s voice if Indiana, the East Region’s No. 1 seed, is in trouble late against No. 8 N.C. State or No. 9 Temple. A close finish would allow the always-sentimental Nantz to declare as he throws it back to the studio: “This one was what March Madness is all about, friends.”

If the Senate is still in session at that point, a different kind of March Madness likely will be breaking out in and around the chamber.

A defense/political wonk could go right back to C-SPAN2, where they might find Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., pleading for a vote on an amendment to defund the MEADS missile defense program. Since one would already have a full adult beverage for the next NCAA game, just take a drink each time she utters this phrase: “Missile to nowhere.”

By then, it could be time for a tasty match-up out West on CBS or a Turner network, with No. 4 Kansas State and No. 5 Wisconsin on a collision course. But only after a frustrated-looking Reid makes an announcement on C-SPAN2….

What a weekend it could be, friends.

John T. Bennett

John T. Bennett

Bennett is the Editor of Defense News' CongressWatch channel. He has a Masters degree in Global Security Studies from Johns Hopkins University.
John T. Bennett