Thursday, April 2, 2009

Senate Amendment Review

As promised, I will now bring you coverage of yesterday's numerous Senate amendments to the budget resolution. I know some of you are not as gung ho as I am about covering amendment votes, but the budget resolution is perhaps the most important piece of legislation that we'll see for the rest of the year. I'll try to make as quick as possible.

1. Let's first go through the amendments that were accepted by voice vote.

a. A good amendment by Senator Lincoln (D-AR) that keeps GI education benefits up to pace with the national cost of college tuition.

b. Another Lincoln amendment to provide a deficit-neutral reserve fund for child welfare.

c. An amendment by the moderate duo of Senator Collins (R-ME) and Lieberman (?-CT) that would provide an extra $550 million to fight drug trafficking on the Mexico border.

d. An amendment by Senator Casey (D-PA) to provide a reserve fund for low income housing assistance.

e. A clarifying amendment from Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) to fully fund international affairs programs.

f. An Isakson (R-GA) amendment that provides a reserve fund for a tax credit for home buyers. He proposed a similar amendment to the recovery bill, which passed in the Senate but was stripped out in conference. Why accommodate him if he's going to vote against the bill anyway?

g. A Shaheen (D-NH) amendment to provide a reserve fund to monitor FHA loans.

h. A Reed (D-RI) amendment to increase funding for low income heating assistance by $1.9 billion. Surprised no Republicans objected to that one.

Alright, now to the Roll Call Votes. Let's go through them quickly.

1. The first vote was on an amendment by Senator Alexander (R-TN) that would create a budget point of order against any bill that raised the national debt above 90% of GDP. This is slightly better than the absurd Gregg amendment the day before, because it takes inflation into account, but still not a great idea in a recession. A budget point of order would mean that any such increase would require 60 votes. The amendment was defeated 55-43. Klobuchar (MN) and Nelson (NE) were the Democratic crossovers. Seriously Klobuchar? You're supposed to be a reliable liberal!

2. Next was an amendment to propose freezing discretionary spending for five years offered by Senator Sessions (R-AL). Thank God we can vote down these amendments. This one failed on a 58-40 vote, with only retiring Republican Mel Martinez voting with the Democrats in opposition.
3. Next, an amendment by Senator John Ensign that creates a budget point of order on any tax increase for those making under $250,000 per year. Probably wouldn't be a good idea politically to oppose this. That's why it passed unanimously, 98-0.

4. Another budget point of order amendment came up, this time from Republican John Cornyn, that would prohibit an direct or indirect tax on small businesses. I'm worried about the effects of this because the Republicans may, at some point, say that our taxes on BIG business are actually taxes on small businesses. The Democrats caved pretty easily on this and the amendment passed 82-16, with only the most liberal members voting against it.

5. Then came another Gregg amendment, this one setting aside a reserve fund to form a task force to address entitlement reform. This sounds good on paper, but Gregg has long been a proponent of entitlement "reform" (read: privatization). The amendment failed 54-44. Lieberman (CT), Nelson (NE), Warner (VA) and Webb (VA) were crossovers for the Democrats. Snowe was the only Republican voting no.

6. Next was an amendment by Idaho Senator Mike Crapo (it's pronounced CRAY-po) that would prohibit any discretionary spending increases beyond what's outlined in the resolution. The amendment failed 55-43. Democrats crossing over were Bayh (IN) and Nelson (NE). Not surprising.

7. Next, was a pair of votes on using the fast track reconciliation process on a climate change bill. Democrats have considered using this process to prevent Republicans from filibustering a bill. Republicans and some "principles of the process" Democrats objected to using this procedure on important legislation, even though Republicans have done so NUMEROUS times in the past. Nebraska Republican Mike Johanns proposed an amendment prohibiting climate change legislation from being brought up under reconciliation, and the Democrats (shamefully, in my view) easily caved. That pretty much kills climate change legislation for the year. Of course, if Republicans truly don't cooperate, the Democrats could write another budget resolution that includes reconciliation instructions for climate change, but this vote seems to indicate that many Democrats are more concerned with not hurting the Republican minority's feelings than with getting things done. The Johanns amendment was approved 67-31, with 26 Democrats voting in favor. The Senate also rejected a Democratic proposal to waive the budget act to support a reserve fund for climate change legislation by a vote of 42-56 (it needed 60 votes to pass).

8. Finally, Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona proposed an amendment seeking to clarify that any comparative effectiveness research cannot by used to ration health care in any federal program. This, of course, is a useless amendment, because comparative effectiveness would do no such thing. Conservatives have ratcheted up this narrative that comparative effectiveness research in health care will cause rationing, when in reality, it actually makes it easier for doctors to use best practices to improve patient care. Thankfully, the Kyl amendment was defeated 54-44, with only Democrats Feingold (WI) (seriously?), Lieberman (CT) and Nelson (NE) crossing over.

Alright, you are now up-to-date. Unfortunately, there will be a million more amendments voted on today, so we'll have a lot to cover tonight. I'm not exactly sure when the vote will be on final passage, but it could be as early as this evening. The House will vote on their version tonight, after disposing of three alternatives.

1 comment:

  1. Just want to say thanks! Just so much going on these days at the Hill and no way I have the time to even catch up. It's a very nice summary to digest.

    Wonder why Mark Warner and Jim Webb crossover on Gregg's amendment.