According to D.C. buzz, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has perhaps gone too far in protecting U.S. Sen. Mark Begich and other vulnerable senators from having to take tough votes on legislation dealing with controversial issues such as an EPA rule limiting carbon emissions or construction of the Keystone Pipeline, as well as a host of other bills. Reid and other Democratic leaders have done that, by and large, by blocking those bills from coming to the floor.
The system under Reid’s leadership has been so bottlenecked that not one of Begich’s amendments have been put to a floor vote during the whole of his tenure, a talking point that Republicans are pushing. By contrast, Sen. Ted Stevens, who was in the minority for his first six years in office, got 14 such votes on amendments.
Both parties can share blame. Unlike in Juneau, the Senate doesn’t have an automatic rule that an amendment have at least something to do with the bill being introduced, and therefore some bills that Begich might amend get killed before making it to the floor. For instance, a bipartisan energy efficiency bill might have been offered, and might even have passed, had Louisiana Sen. David Vitter not tried to attach amendments to the bill that overturned Obamacare subsidies for congressional staff and lawmakers.
But much of the problem in the Senate grows out of the conflicting agendas between red and blue state senators. For instance, in the Senate Appropriations Committee earlier this month, Democrats scuttled a bill to which an amendment was going to be offered by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell which would block the EPA from finalizing proposed carbon emission limits for power plants. The EPA is not the most beloved agency in Alaska, to put it mildly and a vote against limiting their powers would be hugely problematic for Begich.
Begich is a member of Senate Appropriations. His staff declined to say how he would have voted on the carbon amendment. Sen. Lisa Murkowski offered a similar amendment in 2010, which Begich voted against, but it wasn’t an election year.
Another vote that’s been blocked is on the Keystone Pipeline, which Begich supports.
Begich’s office is quick to point out that there are other ways to get things done. “Alaskans don’t care about how things get done, as much they care about results, which Begich is focused on achieving through both legislative and non-legislative means,” a Begich staffer said.
His staff pointed to Begich’s success on adding a ban on “Frankenfish” to a non-binding budget resolution, though that has yet to become law. There are also amendments that are offered in committee, like Begich’s amendment that makes it easier for facilities like hospitals, schools, childcare and eldercare facilities to serve traditional Native Alaskan and American Indian foods. That became part of the farm bill that was passed earlier this year.
Further, there are his non-legislative accomplishments, Begich’s staff says, like pushing the VA to allow rural vets to be able to visit private healthcare clinics close to home.
Still, the fact remains that the Senate is more bottlenecked than it’s ever been, and Begich is a member of the majority party which will take the blame. To make matters worse, he also chairs the Steering Committee, which is supposed to set the Democratic agenda and advance legislation.
Contact Amanda Coyne at Amandamcoyne@yahoo.com