The U.S. Senate is voting on the GOP’s budget resolution today, which is really not about the budget at all, but rather, rigging the procedural rules in the Senate so that the GOP can vote on its so-called “tax reform” (tax cuts for Plutocrats) bill at some point with a simple majority vote of 50 senators plus the Vice President, and bypass the Senate cloture rule of 60 votes to forestall a Democratic filibuster through adoption of reconciliation rules.
The Senate’s budget process allows votes on any politically charged issue during a so-called vote-a-rama session. This is all Kabuki theater to get senators to take votes on amendments to be used in campaign ads against them later.
Roll Call reports, When the Budget Resolution Isn’t About the Budget:
When Sen. John McCain removed the suspense by announcing he would vote for the budget resolution moving through the Senate, the Arizona Republican made clear the ridiculousness of the exercise.
“At the end of the day, we all know that the Senate budget resolution will not impact final appropriations,” he said in a statement. “To do that, Congress and the White House must negotiate a budget agreement that will lift the caps [sequestration] on defense spending and enable us to adequately fund the military.”
McCain said he was supporting the budget resolution because it includes instructions that provide the path forward for overhauling the federal income tax code without the risk of filibusters, rather than because of the funding levels it would provide.
That’s a common view that crosses parties. A bipartisan pair of members of the Senate Budget Committee plan to get their colleagues on the record about the rather farcical nature of the exercise that’s set to play out late Thursday on the floor when senators engage in a long series of votes known as a “vote-a-rama.”
Georgia Republican David Perdue has filed an amendment alongside Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse that seeks to declare that the budget process itself is broken.
“Only four times in the past 43 years has this budget process actually funded the federal government. Finding common ground to develop a real budget should be a bipartisan effort, and that’s why we’re fighting to fix it,” the senators said.
“Let’s be very clear. This budget is a sham. It’s a fraud that’s been perpetrated for the last 43 years since the Budget Act of 1974,” Perdue told CNBC. “The only reason we’re doing the budget like this, 18 days after the beginning of our fiscal year, is to get to a vehicle to get tax done this year.”
Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who served as ranking member of the House Budget Committee, also pointed to the often-ignored statutory deadline of April 15 for completing work on a resolution.
“This is all about trying to create a vehicle to push through tax cuts for the super rich at the expense of the rest of the country. That’s why this exercise is happening,” said Van Hollen, now the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “Why else would you take up a budget, how many days are we into the budget year?”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, who shares McCain’s interests in increasing national security spending, made it clear that his concerns about defense levels are not really significant.
“The only thing important about the budget to me is reconciliation on taxes,” the South Carolina Republican told reporters this week.
The Hill adds, What to watch for in Senate budget debate on Thursday:
The Senate is set to vote on its 2018 budget resolution, a key step toward Republicans’ top agenda item of tax reform.
While few expect that the budget measure will have any serious problems passing, the upper chamber’s free-wheeling voting marathon that kicks off Thursday is sure to allow for drama.
The session, known as a “vote-a-rama,” is less restrictive than other amendment procedures, allowing senators to introduce as many amendments as they want on whatever subjects they like.
Here’s what to watch for as the Senate takes up the budget.
The vote-a-rama could hold a number of unexpected twists for the budget, despite its main purpose being to move along a special procedure Republicans want to use to pass tax reform.
Democrats already introduced three amendments on Wednesday that would have blocked potential cuts to Medicaid, shored up funds for Medicare and prevented tax cuts from benefiting the top 1 percent of earners.
They are also expected to go after rule changes in the resolution, such as a carve-out for Senate pay-as-you-go rules about the deficit that Republicans inserted to protect their tax-reform efforts and a decision to scrap the requirement for Congressional Budget Office scores to be available for 28 hours before votes are allowed.
On the GOP side, there is little appetite to bring forward amendments that could derail the tax reform process, but fiscal hawks and defense hawks may try to force their issues. Republicans are split on exactly how much spending should go to the military and how important it is to keep the deficit down as they enact their priorities.
They could bring up amendments trying to impose fiscal restraints, spending cuts or military expenditures.
In addition, any senator who wants to force a vote on an individual issue could do so. They could file amendments on a host of other topics, such as gun control, President Trump’s tax returns or health care.
What’s the Democratic strategy?
Democrats say they don’t intend to offer “a zillion” amendments in the vote-a-rama and that the ones they do introduce will fall into four general categories: blocking cuts to Medicare or Medicaid; preventing tax breaks for the wealthy; preventing tax hikes for the middle class; and making tax reform deficit neutral.
The main thrust of the amendments are to reinforce the Democrats’ political message and force Republicans to take uncomfortable votes. But with individual Democratic members freely able to offer their own amendments, there is a question of how successfully that strategy might play out.
For example, Democrats are determined to find a fix for young immigrants affected by Trump’s decision to rescind an Obama-era program to protect those residing in the U.S. illegally from deportation, block a push for Trump’s proposed border wall, take action on gun control, secure funding for key payments to insurers selling ObamaCare plans and shore up the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
How the Democrats’ strategy plays out through the voting session could offer a glimpse into the party’s internal divisions and whether they can adhere to a plan to promote their agenda.
Will there by any GOP defections?
Republicans need just 50 votes to pass the budget resolution, with Vice President Pence casting a tie-breaking vote. Currently, just one of the Senate’s 52 Republicans — Rand Paul — is expected to break ranks.
Paul is demanding that spending levels stick to budgetary caps. The Kentucky Republican spent much of Tuesday feuding with fellow GOP Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.), who are pushing for more military spending.
Both dismissed Paul’s push, with McCain saying, “I don’t know anybody who pays any attention to him.”
McCain himself, often a wild card in legislative battles, said he would vote for the resolution despite wanting more defense spending.
Paul’s expected no vote is less of a threat to the budget’s passage following the return of Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) to Washington this week. Cochran had spent weeks on medical leave in his home state.
Still, a small group of senators could plausibly threaten to derail the process unless they get their way on a certain issue, whether it be spending, defense or some element of tax reform.
Our Twitter-troll-in-chief on Thursday said he thinks there is enough to support in the Senate to pass its 2018 budget resolution, a key step toward tax reform, but added, “who knows?”
There is little chance that the budget resolution will not pass. The real drama will come over the tax cuts for Plutocrats package. Deficit hawks like Sen. Rand Paul insist on maintaining the budget sequestration caps adopted several years ago. Defense hawks like Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham want the sequestration caps for defense repealed. Mythical moderate Republicans such as Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski are opposed to the draconian cuts to Medicare and Medicaid in the budget. And Sen. Bob Corker, whom Trump has chosen to vilify in his Twitter rages, is on record saying of the tax bill “Unless it reduces deficits – let me say that one more time – unless it reduces deficits and does not add to deficits with reasonable and responsible growth models and unless we can make it permanent, I don’t have any interest in it.”
With Paul and Corker opposed because the GOP tax bill adds to the federal deficit, it only takes one more GOP defection to defeat the tax cuts for Plutocrats bill.
The Senate GOP leadership adopted reconciliation rules to repeal “Obamacare” and failed miserably. There is a very good chance that the tax cuts for Plutocrats package will also fail despite adoption of reconciliation rules. Bad policy is bad policy, and there is more than enough to dislike in what has been proposed to garner at least three GOP defections on the GOP tax bill.