By Terry Kivlan
WASHINGTON (April 22, 2010) - The Senate Budget Committee Thursday voted mostly along party lines to approve a somewhat leaner version of President Obama's FY11 budget plan after rejecting a series of Republican bids to force more spending and debt reductions.
The resolution cleared 12-10 [Vote 12] with one Democrat, Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wisc., opposing it. The measure would cut FY11 discretionary spending by an additional $4 billion - mostly though cuts from the State Department and other foreign aid programs - and reduce the annual budget deficit to 3 percent of gross national product by 2014, as opposed to 4 percent under the president budget request.
On a voice vote, the committee accepted an amendment from Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, to freeze congressional salaries for the next two years. "As we struggle out of the recession, it's important that we sent the tone," said Begich.
The only audible nay was sounded by Senate Budget ranking member Judd Gregg, R-N.H., who is leaving the Senate at the end of the year. Noting that many Senate members are wealthy and don't need their pay, Gregg said: "I don't think it's good for us to say we are going to freeze our salaries because we can afford to freeze our salaries."
In roll call votes on several more contentious issues, Republicans scored some major victories in the markup. The committee approved 14-9 [Vote 1] an amendment from Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., calling for $44 billion in unobligated Troubled Asset Relief Program to be rescinded for use in deficit reduction. "TARP has taken on a life of its own ... It's becoming a slush fund," said Graham.
Four Democrats crossed over to support the amendment - Feingold, Begich, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.
The committee rejected 14-8 [Vote 8] an amendment from Begich to set aside some unspent TARP money for small business lending. Republicans said it would pervert the purpose of the program. "This amendment creates a new program with TARP funds," said Gregg.
Handing another win to Republicans, the committee voted 16-6 [Vote 7] to approve a Gregg amendment to tighten up the reconciliation language in the bill to prevent the use of the fast-track, simple-majority procedure to ram through big ticket items, such as the recently passed health care reform package. Under Gregg's measure, the procedure could be reserved for legislation that allocated less than 20 percent of its spending on new programs.
Democrats stood firm against other Republican attempts to change the resolution. The committee rejected:
• 13-10 [Vote 3] and amendment from Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., to set tougher limits on discretionary spending and to require a 67-vote majority to lift the caps in non-emergency situations.
• 13-10 [Vote 4] an amendment from Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas., to use $42 million in unobligated economic stimulus funds for debt reduction.
• 13-10 [Vote 5] an amendment from Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., to provide reconciliation instructions to the Senate Judiciary Committee to cut the deficit $16.6 billion a year between 2011 and 2015 through medical malpractice reform. House Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said the panel had no authority to dictate to Judiciary in this manner.
• 13-10 [Vote 6] an amendment from Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, to include the estimated $1.5 billion debt obligations of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in national debt calculations. Conrad said this would only take the pressure off the two bankrupt government sponsored entities to make good on the obligations.
• 13-9 [Vote 11] a Gregg amendment to require all Medicare savings to stay in the program.
In other roll calls, the committee approved 15-8 [Vote 2] a Feingold amendment requiring $300 million in new spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to be paid for in the next ten years instead of merely added to the debt as emergency allocations. "This is not whether you are for or against the war. It's about responsible budgeting," said Feingold, a leading critic of the wars.
"We didn't start these wars ... We were attacked," said Sessions in opposing the amendment. Two Republicans, Crapo and Ensign, backed the measure.
The committee approved 20-2 [Vote 10] an amendment from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D.R.I., to set up a reserve fund to help the Federal Election Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission take steps to deter foreign corporate entities from funneling money into American political campaigns in the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision striking down the ban on domestic corporate contributions.
Rejected 12-10 [Vote 9] was an amendment from Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., to set up a reserve fund to develop legislation to break up too-big-to-fail financial companies - such as Wells Fargo, J.P. Morgan Chase, Bank of America and Citibank. Sanders said the firms epitomized the over-concentration of ownership in the economy. "Too big to fail is too big to exist," he said.
But Gregg retorted: "We as a government should not be disassembling companies that are solvent just because we don't like them... This would be industrial policy on steroids."
In other voice votes, the committee accepted an amendment from Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, to set up a reserve fund to ease new restrictions on medical expense deductions in the health care reform package that could result in some companies dropping drug coverage for employees, and an amendment from Sen. Michael Enzi, R-Wyo.,to create a reserve fund to delay until 2014 some of the tax increases called for in the landmark legislation. The reserve funds would have to be offset under pay-go rules.
The committee also approved by voice vote:
• An Enzi amendment to set up a reserve fund to cut small business income tax rates.
• A Crapo amendment to require disclosure of details about the national debt in all public budget documents.
• A Whitehouse amendment to require the disclosure of debt information to go back the previous twelve years.
• A Sanders amendment to create a reserve fund for efforts to force corporations to pay a fair share of taxes.
• An amendment from Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., to set up a reserve fund for the implementation of the health care reform program.
• An amendment from Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., to extend coverage of an existing environmental fund to forest preservation.
• A Warner amendment to stiffen federal agency accountability standards for the economic stimulus program.
• A Whitehouse amendment to allow an existing flood control fund to be used for modernizing and repairing dams.
• A Warner amendment to set up a reserve fund for legislation to end temporary programs on their expiration dates.
• An amendment from Sen. Jim Bunnning, R-Ky., to create a point of order against pay-go-exempt emergency spending plans not endorsed by at least 16 senators.
• An Enzi amendment to require the stationing of IRS appeals officers in every state.
• An Enzi amendment to create a reserve fund for efforts to stop the federal government from exceeding their 50-percent share of mineral royalties in dealings with the states.
• An Enzi amendment to restore $3.25 million for a voluntary small business safety program.
Roll call votes to be added later.