The series of votes that will shape the Senate’s version of the fiscal 2016 federal budget won’t be over until Friday morning, but we already know how this drama ends, with Republicans keeping true to being the “party of ‘no'” when it comes to actions that would help raise wages, empower workers and advance the goal of shared prosperity.
The Senate today launched into what’s known inside the Beltway as a “vote-a-rama,” a marathon series of votes expected to last well into the night. But the tone was arguably set on Tuesday, with a little-noticed vote on a budget amendment by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
The Sanders amendment would have accomplished something that should have been noncontroversial: make space in the budget for funding a long-term surface transportation bill. Authorizing spending for the nation’s road and public transportation network is something that Congress has to do by May of this year, and Sanders’ amendment would have added $478 billion over the next 10 years to the fund that covers the costs of the nation’s surface transportation programs. The additional revenue would have come from closing “some outrageous corporate loopholes,” Sanders said on the Senate floor.
Sanders has been among the progressives in the Senate pushing aggressively for investments in programs that would help the economy grow more rapidly and create more jobs. But Senate Republicans flatly rejected the amendment on a party-line vote, 45-52.
Also rejected on Tuesday was an amendment by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) that would amend the Equal Pay Act to make it easier for women to pursue pay discrimination claims. Republicans sided instead with a weaker amendment that its sponsor, Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), noted “does not authorize any new federal regulations” to actually enforce equal pay standards.
Since those votes, the Senate has also rejected an amendment by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) that would have allowed students to refinance their college loans at a lower rate, a Sanders amendment that would require Congress to take action on climate change, a “bring jobs home” amendment by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) designed to close tax loopholes that encourage moving jobs overseas, an amendment that would have increased the minimum wage, and an amendment by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) that would restore funding to the Pell Grant program lost to previous budget cuts.
Also, in a defeat for budget sanity, the Senate rejected, by a vote of 46-54, an amendment by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) that would have lifted the sequestration budget caps for fiscal years 2016 and 2017. Murray saw her amendment as a matter of simple economic and political sense. “President Obama has said that he wouldn’t sign spending bills that lock in sequestration,” Murray said. “And the fact of the matter is that we simply can’t make the investments we need, on both defense and non-defense, if these caps remain in place.”
The only good that is coming out of this series of votes is that we are getting a good picture of who stands with ordinary Americans and who doesn’t, who is committed to making the economy work for working people and who are beholden to the interests of Wall Street and right-wing ideologues. As Republicans posture for the 2016 elections, senators will increasingly make themselves sound as if they care about the plight of working people and are prepared to do something about it. But it is important to remember that when they had opportunities to say with their vote that they are prepared to do something concrete to create jobs, ensure women get equal pay, that college is affordable or avert damage from climate change, they turned the other way.