The Corner

The GOP’s Short-Lived Victories on the Budget

As noted and expected, the U.S. House has passed its version of President Obama’s budget — a document that makes plans to triple the national debt in ten years. House Republicans, powerless to make any changes, simply lost after presenting their alternative.

Last night, the Senate passed its version as well, but with a few important changes brought about by Republican amendments. These changes do at least give some sense of where the Senate is on a number of issues. But they should all be taken with a grain of salt. It is anyone’s guess how many of these changes will survive the House-Senate conference expected after Congress returns from recess.

The Senate rejected a large number of amendments. To give a few examples:

Drug testing for welfare recipients.

– Protection for doctors with conscientious objections to abortion.

– A “mini-bail-out” fund for small toy manufacturers who are about to go out of business because of a new consumer safety law Congress recently passed at the behest of their large competitors.

An amendment that would have made it harder to pass any budget that doesn’t contain full funding for a border fence in the southwest.

An amendment, by Sen. Jim DeMint (R, S.C.), to implement president Obama’s modest earmark reforms.

An amendment to end all automotive bailouts.

A national usury law.

A long-term fix of the Alternative Minimum Tax. Really, this amendment simply called for an honest accounting on the AMT, which is rarely or never practiced by congressional majorities of either party.

–  Drilling on the outer-continental shelf.

A cut-off of any further TARP funds.

The most important GOP amendments that the Senate did pass were the handful related to President Obama’s plan to raise and redistribute $300 billion annually by requiring energy producers and other carbon emitters to purchase carbon credits from the federal government. The plan envisions using most of the money collected to subsidize consumers, to whom the increased costs will be passed.

One carbon-related amendment, proposed by Sen. Kit Bond (R, Mo.), erects an extra 60-vote hurdle against such a plan “to such an extent that it causes significant job loss in manufacturing- or coal-dependent U.S. regions such as the Midwest, Great Plains or South.” Another, proposed by Sen. Mike Johanns (R, Neb.), prevents Congress from implementing such a plan on a temporary basis using the filibuster-proof budget reconciliation process. It passed by a very wide margin, 67-31. Yet another amendment, making an energy tax more difficult to pass this year, was sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R, S.C.).

The Senate panned President Obama’s controversial plan to reduce tax deductions for charitable giving. Senators also rejected a Republican attempt to include in the budget Obama’s plan to means-test the Medicare prescription drug benefit under Medicare, making the wealthy pay higher premiums.

Republicans also succeeding in erecting a parliamentary hurdle against tax increases for small businesses.

The biggest problem, though, as GOP aides describe it, is that most of the Republicans’ successes will be short-lived. Democrats will completely control the joint budget that comes out of conference committee after recess, and they have the numbers in both the House and Senate to pass any budget they like. “Point of order” amendments, which erect parliamentary hurdles to certain kinds of legislation, seldom survive this process when they are proposed and supported by the minority. And Republicans did not succeed in preventing the use of the reconciliation process to pass sweeping, transformational health-care reforms.

At least, for each amendment, senators are on the record. Given their numbers, that may be the most that this Congress’s Republicans can hope for.

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