Elected six years ago, Sen. Mark Begich is still waiting for a vote on any of his amendments.
It's a sore point for the Alaska Democrat, who already faces a difficult re-election campaign in a conservative-leaning state. Republicans have already criticized it as a sign that he is ineffective, an argument he rejects.
Begich has his own party to blame. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has blocked amendment votes on most bills this year to prevent vulnerable members (including Begich) from having to weigh in on Republican proposals that could hurt their re-election chances, such as amendments on Obamacare or gun control.
Begich isn't the only Senate Democrat who has been inactive on the amendment front. Eight of his colleagues who also are up for re-election have recorded a vote on just one amendment they sponsored during their current term, which concludes this year, among them Sens. Al Franken of Minnesota, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Mark Udall of Colorado, Tom Udall of New Mexico, and Mark Warner of Virginia.
In an interview, Begich said he is frustrated with the lack of amendment votes and that he has told Reid that he would prefer an open process even if it meant allowing Senate Republicans to force votes on politically motivated proposals.
But at the same time, Begich rebuffed his GOP critics, dismissing the significance of amendments as a means to judge his productivity and effectiveness.
Here is a transcript of his discussion with the Washington Examiner, edited for length and clarity.
Examiner: Are Democrats frustrated about the lack of votes on amendments, and if so, are they frustrated with Reid, the Republicans, the process, or a combination of all three?
Begich: I think it's all of it. Even [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell is not allowing [amendments] on his side. Or then he'll claim he wants the process and then he'll have amendments totally unrelated to the bill. This is the only place that I can think of in the country -- at least from my political experience -- that allows unrelated issues to come onto a bill.
Examiner: Is it not Reid’s fault because you think the Republicans are always pushing extraneous measure, or do you hold him responsible?
Begich: There’s been a group of us that have met with him twice now to talk about this process, and [Reid] is listening. But on the flip side, McConnell has to agree that you can’t have crazy stuff that’s unrelated to the legislation so they can just score political points. Now do I care on those, personally? No, because they’ll say whatever they want —
I don’t need to be on the floor making amendments. My work gets done in the subcommittees and committees.
Examiner: You’re not frustrated by your own lack of votes on amendments?
Begich: If you’re on the floor fighting for an amendment, that means you have lost at the subcommittee level, you’ve lost at the committee level, you’ve lost at the managers’ amendment level — that’s your last stand. … If you want to grandstand, spend all of your time down on the floor doing that. So, that’s why, to me, I’m personally not frustrated as [to] my own amendments. … because I’m getting work done through all the committees. But on top of that, I’m not afraid to vote on whatever amendments they want to bring forward.
Examiner: You support the notion that amendments should be limited to those that are germane to the bill?
Begich: Yes, but I would also say, if we can’t get there, we’re just going to have bills on the floor; people are going to be wild west, that doesn’t bother me, either. I’m one of those that is not afraid — it’s breaking the process by allowing that. But if that’s what we end up with, I can live with that. … You want to have crazy stuff? Fine, the American people will see through that.