Senate Completes its Budget Resolution – Finally

By John Isaacs Council for a Livable World March 27, 2015 Senate Completes its Budget Resolution – Finally CQ/Roll predicted that the Senate would conclude its vote-a-rama – a series of votes following by votes – more than 12 hours after the voting started at noon yesterday. It turned out to be more than 15 hours later when the Senate took its last amendment vote and then approved the budget resolution by a 52-46 vote around 3:30 AM. All Democrats voted no; all Republicans voted yes except for Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Ron Paul (R-Ky.). Presidential politics, anyone? CQ/Roll Call reports that there were close to 800 amendments filed, 49 considered and 35 approved. By any math, most of the amendments disappeared and others were approved by voice vote. Most of the national security votes never materialized, unless they were dealt with by voice vote or considered en bloc right before final passage. It will take examining the Congressional Record to find out all the details. But apparently, there were no roll call votes on nuclear weapons spending, missile defense, a new nuclear cruise missile or the amendment by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) to cut nuclear weapons. But the Senate had time to vote on Medicaid, minimum wage, carbon emissions, jobs, paid sick leave, veterans’ health care, Pell grants, community colleges, campaign finance, Arms Trade Treaty, pregnant workers, dynamic scoring of budgets, climate change, water rights, pre-school programs, postal workers, same sex spouses moving to a state that does not recognize gay marriage, national do-not-call registry, voter suppression, Israel, sequester, too big to fail, critical habitat, corporate compensation, censoring climate science, unaccompanied children crossing borders, reconciliation (of budgets, not couples) and much more. If a Senator had a political issue, it became an amendment. The amendment by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) on Iran sanctions was weakened until it became a bipartisan 100-0 vote in favor, co-sponsored by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) New sanctions would be possible if the President cannot make a determination and certify that Iran is complying with any agreement. To hide the fact that he was forced to accept a weakened version of his amendment, Kirk claimed on offering his amendment that this was the most important vote on Iran this year (of course it is the first vote and only in the Senate on Iran) and described his amendment as part of an intelligence sharing with Israel and rebalancing of U.S. policy with Israel. It was none of these things. Two amendments to add even more to the military budget went down in flames with many or most Republicans in opposition. It also marked presidential campaigning when Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) offered an amendment supporting additional defense spending beyond the statutory caps on discretionary spending. They lost on a point of order against the amendment 32-68. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), as part of a run for President, the dove-turned-hawk proposed increased defense spending but offset the new spending with other program cuts. "We need a strong national defense, but we should be honest with the American people and pay for it." The Senate did not feel so honest, and rejected the amendment 4-96 on a motion to waive a point of order against the amendment. It is not clear why so many Republicans voted “no.” Perhaps it was like a goose being stuffed to expand its liver for pâté de foie gras. The Pentagon had enough stuffing even for these Republicans. The amendment by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to waive a point of order against increased military spending already in the budget resolution disappeared, perhaps because he did not have the votes. One reason the voting took so long was that every 10 minute roll call stretched into 15-20 minutes because of laggard Senators. At the 21 minute mark on one amendment, when Senator Boxer tried to get the voting closed, the Senator in the chair said that it was up to the sufferance of the chair and the Senate, and Boxer said sotto voce that “we are all suffering.” Eventually, Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) showed up. Around the 10:30 PM mark, in a bipartisan move, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) tried to encourage their colleagues to close shop. Their colleagues eventually cooperated -- 4 ½ hours later. Reid assured his colleagues that no Senator ever won or lost elections because of budget resolution amendments and essentially said all these votes were meaningless. Reid stated: “No one's election is going to be determined by what is taking place here tonight--no election. I defy anyone to show me in any of these vote-aramas where a vote has made any difference. And we are witnesses to that, and I can testify to that. One time, to show my colleagues how meaningless these votes are, we voted against prisoners being able to have Viagra in prison. We actually voted on that. No one lost an election. By the way, it was defeated.” Next up: the Senate-House conference on the budget resolution.