Here Comes The Vote-a-Rama
By Bernie Horn
April 1, 2009 - 10:34pm ET
Both the U.S. House and Senate are scheduled to begin voting on the FY 2010 Budget Resolution later today. What can we expect?
The House side will be straightforward and fairly predictable. Legislation is brought to the House floor with limitations on debate and amendments, called the “Rule.” For the budget, the only amendments that are in order are substitutes for the entire resolution. We expect to see only four substitutes offered:
One is the budget of the House Progressive Caucus. This amendment is an admirable document, which proves that the progressive philosophy is practical. We can increase spending on domestic and international priorities, provide health care for all, fight global warming, cut the poverty rate in half, and create millions of jobs with additional stimulus spending—we do it by ending the war in Iraq a little earlier, eliminating wasteful or obsolete military programs, and phasing out tax cuts for the rich. For more information, see yesterday’s post by my colleague Isaiah Poole.
Another is the Republican budget substitute which will be sponsored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). I won’t mince words—this is one of the most irresponsible amendments ever. It would repeal the stimulus package enacted in February and freeze domestic spending for five years. That’s a guaranteed recipe for a national, and probably a worldwide, depression. The measure would also give away something approaching $4 trillion in tax cuts to the rich. Oh, and it would privatize Medicare. All I can say is, I sincerely hope every single Republican votes for this amendment because it will make a terrific ad for each of their opponents in the next election. For more information, see a post I wrote yesterday.
There is a Congressional Black Caucus substitute that is reasonably similar to the Progressive Caucus' measure and a Republican Study Committee substitute that is similar to the Republican measure. That’s it for the House. The terrific Progressive and CBC amendments and the horrific Republican amendments will each lose and then the Democrats will pass the committee’s budget. Ho, hum. The only question now is how many Democrats will abandon their President and vote against his budget.
The Senate is a different story entirely. The “Greatest Deliberative Body On Earth” has bizarre rules for handling the budget. First, there are 50 hours of debate. Then, any kind of amendment is in order—with no debate in between. An amendment is announced, the sponsor talks for a single minute and an opponent responds for one minute, and then the Senate votes. This goes on and on until all amendments are finished.
This peculiar vote after vote on the budget is known as the “Vote-a-Rama.” Usually, it is an excuse for Senators to add their pet projects to the budget and spending climbs. This year, there are expected to be more than 50 different votes, mostly on conservative proposals.
Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) is expected to propose freezing nondefense spending for the next two years.
Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE) is expected to propose a measure designed to block the “cap-and-trade” system that is essential to fight global warming.
Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) is expected to propose a measure designed to block federal research on the effectiveness of various medical treatments. This measure is favored by the insurance and pharmaceutical industries because it would help protect their profits and keep the cost of health care skyrocketing year after year.
Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is expected to propose a parliamentary procedure designed to block future deficit spending.
Senators Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) are expected to propose increasing the exemption for paying federal estate taxes—a measure that would only help the very rich.
There will be many more like that. At the same time, some Democrats will try to increase the budget.
Senator John Kerry (D-MA) is expected to propose a restoration of full funding for the international affairs budget, including nuclear nonproliferation, foreign assistance, fighting global AIDS, promoting sustainable development, and the like.
Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) is expected to propose increased funding for the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies to fight drug trafficking.
Votes in the Senate may continue through Friday into Saturday before the budget is finally approved. Then Congress takes a two-week vacation. When they get back, the differences between the (very good) House budget and the (mostly good) Senate budget will be fought out in a conference committee. The final conference-approved budget will tell us a lot about how progressive this Congress will be over the next two years.
The writer is a Senior Fellow at Campaign for America’s Future and author of the recent book, "Framing the Future: How Progressive Values Can Win Elections and Influence People."
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