House, Senate Approve Dueling Budgets
The U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate last week voted to pass their respective budget resolutions, marking the first time in four years that both chambers of Congress have approved a fiscal plan for the federal government.
House Republicans passed the third iteration of the so-called Ryan Budget, which proposed to eliminate the federal deficit within a decade without raising taxes, while Senate Democrats narrowly adopted their plan calling for roughly $1 trillion in new tax revenue while cutting spending by an equal amount. ABC strongly opposed the Senate measure, citing its massive tax hikes and reckless deficit spending.
The introduction of the Senate budget, prompted largely by the “No Budget, No Pay” provision included as part of the recent debt ceiling compromise, presented a unique procedural opportunity for the typically vote-averse upper chamber. Unlike most bills which require 60 votes to avoid a filibuster, a budget resolution receives privileged consideration, with just a simple majority needed for passage following 50 hours of debate. Within this window, however, Senators may bring to the floor any amendment they wish for a guaranteed vote, leading to a marathon roll call session dubbed a “vote-a-rama.” While these amendments do not have the force of law, they serve an important symbolic function, and often lead to perilous political decisions.
Among the more than 100 amendments dispensed by the Senate, votes were cast on key issues related to labor, taxes, energy and health care. A significant bipartisan majority voted to proceed with the Keystone XL pipeline project, and 39 Democrats joined the entire Republican conference in voting to repeal the 2.3 percent Medical Device Tax provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
While an ABC-supported amendment to repeal the estate tax failed on a party-line basis, an alternative vote to “repeal or reduce” the death tax garnered 80 votes. Other filed amendments supported by ABC include repeal of the health care law’s employer mandate and health insurance tax (HIT) provision, and an amendment to prevent the funding of unconstitutional actions by the National Labor Relations Board.
The two resolutions are diametrically opposed, and are unlikely to be resolved in a conference committee or signed into law. The President’s budget plan for Fiscal Year 2014, already eight weeks beyond the statutory deadline, is expected to be released in April. While the Senate last passed a concurrent budget resolution in 2009, a functional budget with underlying funding legislation hasn’t been in effect since 1997. Since that time the de facto budget has been determined by a series of omnibus spending bills and continuing resolutions like the one Congress recently passed through the end of fiscal year 2013.