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Is Senate's 'vote-a-rama' plan democracy in action — or a 'Tower of Babel'?

David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Get ready for the U.S. Senate to practice democracy in action Wednesday. And practice it and practice it and practice it.

On tap is a vote-a-rama starting Wednesday afternoon, a nonstop series of votes that in the past has stretched into the predawn hours of the next day.

To Democrats, the marathon is another part of a Republican effort to confuse and overwhelm the public about where the GOP is headed with health care, ethics and a host of other controversial matters.

At the same time the vote-a-rama begins, the Senate is likely to be holding confirmation hearings on nominees for some of the executive branch's most sensitive agencies, notably the Justice and State departments.

"I think they've coordinated all the activities just to create a Tower of Babel that will make it more difficult for the public to be able understand the specifics of any one thing that is taking place," said Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass.

Originally, six confirmation hearings were scheduled Wednesday, but three have been delayed. "This is a good first step," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., "but there is more road to travel."

Republicans dismissed Democrats' charges as nonsense. "Last year they complained we were moving too slowly," said Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Hour after hour, the 100 senators will say "aye" or "nay" to dozens of amendments, one at a time. The changes will be offered mostly by Democrats trying to derail or at least tweak the Republican measure aimed at repealing Obamacare.

"This is not a great public service," said Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch division, a nonpartisan watchdog group.

Vote-a-ramas often occur during consideration of the federal budget blueprint. The process moves quickly, there's rarely time for debate before individual votes and the votes are nonbinding.

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