Health Care Reform Moves Toward Showdown – The House Budget Committee today voted to push health care legislation forward. It now moves to the House Rules Committee, which later this week will make changes and approve of a rule for its consideration on the House floor. The bill approved by the Budget Committee today was merely a placeholder, the Rules Committee will make changes endorsed by the Democratic leadership designed to “correct” the health care overhaul approved by the Senate late last year in order to attract more votes in the House.
Legislation from Senators Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) to establish discretionary spending caps may get a third vote this week in the Senate after falling one vote short of the needed 60 votes last week. The bipartisan proposal seems to be gaining momentum after getting 56 votes in January during the debt ceiling increase debate.
The Senate has just approved, by a 62-36 vote, HR 4213, which extends unemployment compensation and COBRA benefits for the unemployed, along with many tax breaks, until the end of the year. Democratic leaders have promoted it as a jobs bill. Differences with the much-smaller House version must now be worked out.
UPDATE: The Coburn amendment was agreed to on a 100-0 vote.
The Senate today will consider a proposal from Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) to post information on spending approved by the chamber. Amendment # 3358 to the tax extenders bill (H.R. 4213) will require the Secretary of the Senate to post on the Senate website information on:
Temporary Tax Extensions Avoid “The Hurt Locker” – The Senate passed H.R. 4691, a 30-day extension of several expired tax breaks and unemployment and health-care benefits, last week after reaching a deal with Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY). He had blocked the vote because the $10 billion measure was not paid for. Under the deal the Senate considered a Bunning amendment to offset the cost; the proposal was voted down.
In last week's backgrounder blog post on budget reconciliation, we said that the process has been used 22 times in the past, with the President having vetoed three of the bills. That leaves 19 bills that have become law through this special process since 1980. In the graph below, we show the net effect on the deficit of all these bills over the years defined by that year's budget resolution rules.
Unable to pass health care reform using “regular order,” Congressional Democrats now are turning to much-misunderstood process known as “budget reconciliation” to enact the measure. They'll still have to do legislative back flips to get the job done, but the process gives Democrats two major advantages: In the Senate, debate is limited to 20 hours--in other words, no filibusters allowed--and it can pass the Senate with 51 votes, rather than the 60 that much legislation has been required to overcome the filibuster threat.
The Senate has just voted to not waive a Budget Act point of order raised against the Sessions-McCaskill amendment (#3337) to the Senate jobs bill. The amendment would institute discretionary spending caps. The vote was 59-41. Sixty votes were needed to waive the point of order. If the point of order were waived, the Senate would have proceeded to voting on approving the amendment. CRFB supports spending caps.
Given the present economic and political climate, many are eying Constitutional changes to help improve the budget situation.
In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Representatives Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) and Mike Pence (R-IN) proposed a Spending Limit Amendment to the Constitution. The amendment would limit federal spending to one-fifth of the economy. The limit could only be waived by a two-thirds vote in Congress or a declaration of war.
Highway to Nowhere – Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) has blocked a vote on temporarily extending unemployment and COBRA benefits, the Medicare “doc fix” as well as some surface transportation programs funded through the Highway Trust Fund because the $10 billion cost is not offset. He wants unused economic stimulus funds to cover the cost. The Department of Transportation has furloughed 2,000 workers in response.