Today’s Senate Votes, and What Lies Ahead

Today’s votes in the Senate were rather anticlimactic. Harry Reid pursued his announced strategy of bringing the House’s continuing resolution, which defunds Obamacare, up for a vote. The cloture motion passed 79-19, a disappointment to some conservatives who had hoped for more “no” votes. (A Senate staffer told me today that cloture opponents had hoped for 25 “no” votes.) The senators who voted “No” were Mike Crapo (Idaho), Ted Cruz (Tex.), Mike Enzi (Wyo.), Deb Fischer (Neb.), Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), Dean Heller (Nev.), James M. Inhofe (Okla.), Mike Lee (Utah), Jerry Moran (Kan.), Rand Paul (Ky.), Rob Portman (Ohio), James E. Risch (Idaho), Pat Roberts (Kan.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Tim Scott (S.C.), Jeff Sessions (Ala.), Richard C. Shelby (Ala.), Patrick J. Toomey (Pa.) and David Vitter (La.). The rest of the Republicans and all of the Democrats voted “Yes.”

Reid then permitted only a single amendment, to restore Obamacare funding. Amendments require only a simple majority, and this one passed 54-44, along straight party lines. So all Senate Democrats are now on record supporting Obamacare, despite all that we have learned about the law’s devastating impact since it was first adopted.

The action now moves to the House, where John Boehner has already said that a “clean” continuing resolution, which does nothing except fund a few more months of government, can’t get through the House. So everyone expects the Republican leadership to come up with something to add to the bill before they send it back to the Senate. But what?

Some argue for a one-year delay in Obamacare, but at this point, I think that is a poor idea. One, it won’t work: the Democrats have shown their commitment to the Obamacare debacle, and adding a one-year delay would merely cause a government shutdown on Tuesday, for which Republicans would be blamed. Other ideas are bouncing around, but there doesn’t seem to be a clear front-runner. The most interesting news story of the next few days will be the House’s decision on a kicker to add to the CR.

Most people don’t realize that the House’s continuing resolution only funds the federal government for the next two months. So next month we will have the battle over the debt limit, and in November Congress will once again be fighting over the next continuing resolution, with another potential for government shutdown. Somewhere in this process, Republicans ought to be able to bargain for something, like spending reductions.

One more thing that has not been widely reported is that the continuing resolution, as it now exists, violates the Budget Control Act–the compromise solution to the last debt ceiling standoff that was enacted in August 2011. The Budget Control Act purported to dictate discretionary spending levels over the next several years. The total mandated by the BCA for FY 2014, which is what we are now talking about, is $967 billion. That was the figure in Paul Ryan’s House budget, consistent with existing law. But in the Senate, the Democrats ignored the BCA and had a spending proposal for over $1 trillion for FY 2014. When the House adopted its continuing resolution that defunded Obamacare, it used a compromise discretionary spending number of $986 billion (prorated to cover two months). The Senate has now accepted that $986 billion figure, but it still exceeds the BCA. So earlier today, Jeff Sessions called a point of order, noting that the continuing resolution that the Senate was about to vote on was “illegal” under the BCA. That led to a roll call vote; by 68-30, the Senate voted to ignore its prior legislation, the BCA, and spend more money.

Which reinforces something I have written many times over the years: Congress spends money one year at a time. No Congress can bind any future Congress. It happens all the time that the president, or Congressmen, will trumpet a budget or a spending proposal that purports to cut spending by, say, a trillion dollars over the next decade. Only it turns out that the spending “cuts” are all in the “out years.” The out years never come. The only cuts that are meaningful are the ones in this year’s, or next year’s, spending. Everything else is BS, sure to be ignored when the time comes.

Now, it is over to John Boehner and House Republicans for the next move.


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