Congress is now on their annual two-week spring recess, but only after finishing up a rather productive week, at least for Congress. Both chambers passed respective budget resolutions, something that doesn’t happen every year—the Senate has passed a budget only twice in the last six years. Budget resolutions, while non-binding since they don’t have the force of law, are major policy pronouncements by the parties in charge. This time was especially important for the GOP for at least two reasons: one, Republicans, since taking over the Senate, wanted to show they can actually pass something and govern, and two, the budget provides a blueprint for moving forward, including on major policy fronts like health care.

Budget resolutions go back to the days of Richard Nixon, who wouldn’t always spend the money Congress authorized, or wouldn’t spend it the way Congress directed. So Congress wanted more control of the process, and they passed the Congressional Budget Act in 1974; the Act also created the CBO. And yes, it was also the year Nixon resigned over Watergate. The Act outlined a new process—resolutions first, reconciliation next—and set deadlines: April 1 for each chamber, and Congress must pass one budget by April 15. But they don’t have to, since they never go to the White House for signature, which is why they never become law. Thus, non-binding technically, but they are binding on Congress in the sense that budget resolutions set spending limits and guidelines that are used throughout the year. This resolution, actually a concurrent resolution, sets forth the budget authority for fiscal year 2016, makes policy decisions (cutting $5 trillion from discretionary programs, mostly domestic), and sets budget limits for the next ten years.

The House went first—it’s often easier for the Republicans to pass legislation in that chamber since they have the numbers on their side (the majority), plus the rules are different in the Senate. The House GOP managed to pass their budget resolution 228-199—all Democrats voted against it, and were joined by another 17 Republicans. Let’s be clear: while often touted as major policy blueprints, budget resolutions are political documents, and the Dems weren’t likely to help GOP leaders in passing anything. But the real battle wasn’t between Rs and Ds; the fight was actually inside the Republican conference, mostly pitting traditional defense hawks against upstart fiscal conservatives. Speaker Boehner is a traditionalist—he had his deputies arm twist several problematic votes and the hawks won, for now.

But all eyes quickly turned to S. Con. Res. 11 in the Senate, where “regular order” is the new way under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of KY. This means everyone is supposed to follow chamber rules, like they used to—file bills, hold committee hearings, file amendments, conduct floor debates, etc. But could the Senate really afford to debate hundreds of amendments on a non-binding resolution, especially while facing a deadline with recess approaching? Hardly. Over 600 amendments were proposed, some more important than others, including 14 related to climate change. In the end only a handful were actually filed, and fewer still were debated and voted on. But how to handle so many votes in such a short time? Hold a “vote-a-rama,” the annual Senate ritual of stacking votes on top of each other, working around the clock. This always grabs some headlines, partly because it’s a great spectacle, but also because it forces senators to take a stand, a public one at that, on such key issues as defense spending, climate change, and health care. Add to that the fact that several senators are running for—or thinking of running for—president, and you have some pretty good drama in the traditionally staid upper chamber.

The voting commenced around noon on Thursday, one day before the Senate was expected to recess. Midnight was the goal. Almost all the votes are roll call votes, meaning recorded ones, by name—what better way to stand up and be counted? Of course, this means no one can hide from an uncomfortable issue or position, and there were several of these. One came on a Democratic amendment from Sen. Murray of WA—paid sick leave—that had Members scurrying. Debate was limited to two minutes (yes, you read that correctly), while votes were restricted to 10 minutes, but this one went much longer. It passed with 60 votes. This is noteworthy for two reasons: a minority Democrat actually passed an amendment, and two key GOP senators switched their votes after recording the other way. Sens. Toomey of PA and Johnson of WI, both Republicans up for tough reelections next year, switched to YES after first voting NO. It might help in their reelection bids.

A simple amendment on defense spending turned out far from simple—it was offered by possible presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul of KY. It lost, 4-92.

There were a few key energy votes, including a Sen. Sanders amendment calling on Congress to address climate change. Sanders, the independent from VT and strong supporter of climate legislation, lost 49-50. But GOP Sen. Blunt of MO prevailed—his provision would bar a federal carbon tax. Blunt believes the White House, in pushing the EPA Clean Power Plan, is in effect, promoting a tax on carbon. He won, 58-42, with a few Dems in the YES column. Another amendment, Sen. Angus King’s of ME related to distributed generation and community solar programs, never came up.

They didn’t hit their midnight target; instead, the marathon voting session ended at 3 a.m. when the Senate passed their budget resolution, 52-46. It was time to head home.

What’s next? Congress returns April 13; both chambers will try to reach agreement and adopt one single budget plan, hashing over their differences in a conference committee. Of course, GOP leaders from the House and Senate will control the conference; Democrats will participate but barely. If successful, Republicans can then move on to the reconciliation process, set forth by “reconciliation instructions” contained in the resolution. This is key and exactly what the GOP is after, since reconciliation has different rules, including voting by simple majority. This matters more in the Senate, where a 51 majority vote can bring major change to key issues, like health care. It was reconciliation that brought a key victory to President Clinton when Dems barely passed his first major budget, and President George W. Bush’s tax cuts were also approved under the same rules. And this is exactly how President Obama, of course, claimed victory for his new health care plan, which barely squeaked by under reconciliation.

It will be an interesting spring in Washington.