The Corner

The Senate budget vote marathon and what it means

The Senate took 44 Roll Call votes on budget-related matters yesterday, in addition to several voice votes. It was quite the marathon session.

Since it was far too much for most people to follow, let me share some highlights. The Senate:

  • voted against repealing President Clinton’s 1993 increase in the Alternative Minimum Tax rate — then voted for it, then voted against it again. The first time the vote was taken, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) was absent at a meeting off Capitol Hill, and the vote came in 49-50 — failure. Shortly thereafter, the amendment (proposed by Arlen Specter, R-Pa.) was reconsidered and passed, 50-50, with Vice President Cheney breaking the tie. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid then prevailed upon Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) to change his vote, and the measure was defeated on the third vote.
  • failed (43-55) to repeal the Bush income tax cuts of 2001 for top earners. Worthy of note: Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) was the only Republican to vote for this provision. 
  • failed (48-50) to extend a handful of tax provisions — deductibility of college tuition and military combat pay and the research and development tax credit for U.S. companies.
  • provided funds (49-48) to create a government agency sunset panel called CARFA –  something like a base closure commission for eliminating obsolete government agencies in a simple up-or-down vote of the Congress. This has been a pet project of Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) for many years. It received support mostly from conservatives but also from several liberal Democrats, including Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) among others.
  • rejected Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R-S.C.) earmark moratorium (29-71), despite votes in favor from Sens. Clinton and Obama and a few other Democrats.
  • failed (47-53) to repeal President Clinton’s 1993 tax increase on Social Security benefits.
  • went on the record overwhelmingly (73-23) with a non-binding resolution in favor of prescription drug reimportation, proposed by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.).
  • failed to pass two separate death tax reduction provisions — a Democratic provision sponsored by Mary Landrieu (D-La.) that raised other taxes (23-77), and a Republican one from Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) with no tax increases (48-50).
  • failed to fund enforcement of the Child Custody Protection Act, which (if passed – and Democrats prevented it from passing in the last Congress) would make it a federal crime to take minor girls across state lines for an abortion without their parents’ permission. (One story of such a kidnapping of a minor to force her to abort here.) The vote was 49-49, but the Vice President was not present to break the tie.
  • failed to cover unborn children under SCHIP, 46-52.

All of these votes were on the budget resolution, which is not a law but rather an outline for the Senate when it appropriates funds for fiscal 2009. Changes in revenue and spending – specifically, tax cuts or increases, and spending cuts or increases — can be passed on a temporary basis and without danger of a filibuster in what is known as a “reconciliation bill.” This was the same process that was used to pass President Bush’s tax cuts (which is why they are temporary), and Republicans tried unsuccessfully in years past to use it to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for oil drilling (the oil leases would have brought extra revenue to the government).

Don’t expect any of the good provisions like CARFA to be passed in this Congress. A reconciliation bill, should one emerge later this year, may not include such items – and it could include Democratic tax increases (to pay for their higher spending levels), making President Bush unlikely to sign.

UPDATE — A reader sends this query:

Mr. Freddoso,

Why don’t you put the amendment number or links to the bills?  I would love to find out how my senators voted (I’m in PA, so I can guess).  But I would also like to be able to reference the correct resolution, bill, amendment, etc., when I call or write to complain. I’ve noticed that most journalists/newspapers/magazines never include this information and it bugs me to no end.

I’m not going to link each individual amendment, but you can have a look at how your senators voted on each amendment right here – just check out votes 42 through 85 on the budget (S. Con. Res. 70).

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