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Proud of My Senators for Their Votes on the “Fiscal Responsibility” Amendments

January 27th, 2010 . by economistmom

senators-warner-and-webb

The amendment to the debt limit increase calling for the Conrad-Gregg fiscal commission (designed to encourage deficit reduction) was “defeated” yesterday by failing to garner the filibuster-proof 60 votes, although a majority of the senators (53) did support it (and Senator Conrad said at his press conference it would have been 54 had Senator Murkowski (R-AK) been there to vote).  Stan Collender points out that it was an “absolutely bipartisan” “defeat”–in fact a downright (bipartisan) “deficit smackdown” (I think he means “deficit reduction smackdown”).  Well, I prefer to see the glass as (more than) half full:  there were 53 senators who voted “yes” on the commission, and there were both Democrats (36) and Republicans (16) (and one Independent, Lieberman) in that column.  Since Stan already reproduced the “Nays” list that he seems to be honoring, I’d like to highlight the “Yeas”:

YEAs —53
Alexander (R-TN)
Bayh (D-IN)
Begich (D-AK)
Bennet (D-CO)
Bingaman (D-NM)
Bond (R-MO)
Boxer (D-CA)
Carper (D-DE)
Chambliss (R-GA)
Collins (R-ME)
Conrad (D-ND)
Corker (R-TN)
Cornyn (R-TX)
Dorgan (D-ND)
Durbin (D-IL)
Enzi (R-WY)
Feingold (D-WI)
Feinstein (D-CA)
Franken (D-MN)
Gillibrand (D-NY)
Graham (R-SC)
Gregg (R-NH)
Hagan (D-NC)
Isakson (R-GA)
Johanns (R-NE)
Johnson (D-SD)
Kaufman (D-DE)
Kerry (D-MA)
Klobuchar (D-MN)
Kohl (D-WI)
Landrieu (D-LA)
LeMieux (R-FL)
Leahy (D-VT)
Levin (D-MI)
Lieberman (ID-CT)
Lincoln (D-AR)
Lugar (R-IN)
McCaskill (D-MO)
Menendez (D-NJ)
Nelson (D-FL)
Nelson (D-NE)
Pryor (D-AR)
Reid (D-NV)
Schumer (D-NY)
Shaheen (D-NH)
Tester (D-MT)
Udall (D-CO)
Vitter (R-LA)
Voinovich (R-OH)
Warner (D-VA)
Webb (D-VA)
Wicker (R-MS)
Wyden (D-OR)

My problem with Stan’s seeming praise for the “Nay”-sayers is that I don’t believe the “bipartisan” objections to the commission represent “bipartisan” support for any other way out of our fiscal state.  Many of the senators who voted against the Conrad-Gregg commission were not just objecting to the process of having to vote on the commission’s recommendations; they were objecting to the inevitable recommendations themselves–that we might actually have to raise taxes or reform the Medicare and Social Security programs (and possibly cut someone’s benefits).

That’s why I’m proud of my senators from Virginia, Mark Warner and Jim Webb, who were the only two senators who both voted for the Conrad-Gregg commission and refused to support the Baucus amendment (despite being of the same party as Baucus).  I think the Baucus amendment is a prime example of how far from bipartisanship we actually are when it comes to fiscal responsibility and deficit reduction; it basically says “hands off Social Security”–which directly contradicts the notion (which I think the Conrad-Gregg commission supports) that the only way we are going to solve the deficit problem is to work together and put “everything on the table.”   Here is the key passage from the text of the amendment (emphasis added):

(a) LIMITATION ON CHANGES TO THE SOCIAL SECURITY ACT.–Notwithstanding any other provision of law, it shall not be in order in the Senate or the House of Representatives to consider any bill or resolution pursuant to any expedited procedure to consider the recommendations of a Task Force for Responsible Fiscal Action or other commission that contains recommendations with respect to the old-age, survivors, and disability insurance program established under title II of the Social Security Act.

Yet the Baucus amendment received the support of all of the senators except Senators Warner and Webb, who both abstained from the vote.  The amendment passed with 97 “Yeas”, 0 “Nays”, and 3 “not voting” (Senator Murkowski was not present).

I would have preferred to see some “Nays” on this, but frankly, I’m just puzzled why there was so much “bipartisan” support for the Conrad-Gregg commission itself and yet so much willingness (via the Baucus amendment) to do the very thing the commission is intended to avoid: taking options off the table that one side or the other doesn’t like.

[**ADDENDUM 1 pm:  And speaking of sincerity about the kind of "bipartisanship" that might actually work to reduce the deficit, here's a nice op-ed by Senator Warner that was published last week in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  I found this on his Facebook page, where I was already a "fan."  And how about his "tweet" from yesterday:  "Disappointd by Sen's rejectn of biprtsn panel to tackle fed budget deficits. Neither party will make hard choices on its own"]

10 Responses to “Proud of My Senators for Their Votes on the “Fiscal Responsibility” Amendments”

  1. comment number 1 by: Brooks

    Diane,

    Senator Conrad seemed to be indicating that, in effect, the Baucus amendment merely represented a redundant 60 vote hurdle (redundant with a 60 vote hurdle in the legislation for the commission). I don’t know whether (or to what extent) such an assertion is/would be valid. On the one hand, it seems to me invalid, since Baucus’ amendment seems to preclude an up-or-down (expedited) vote on any recommendation that “that contains recommendations with respect to [Social Security]“, but on the other hand I not expect Conrad to make such a mistake, so perhaps I’m missing something.

    See 82:46 of this video for Conrad’s reaction to Baucus’ Social Security amendment http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/291654-1

    In response to Baucus’ (silly and irresponsible) amendment, Conrad says:

    I have no problem with the amendment offered by Senator Baucus. Basically what it does is create another 60-vote hurdle for any work that the commission would do, and this underlying proposal requires 60 votes…

    …to have another 60 hurdle does not change what would be required to get a commission recommendation because we would require 60 votes.

    If you can shed some light on this puzzling matter, please do.

  2. comment number 2 by: AMTbuff

    I think the Baucus amendment is a prime example of how far from bipartisanship we actually are when it comes to fiscal responsibility and deficit reduction; it basically says “hands off Social Security”

    97 votes sounds bipartisan to me. Everyone agrees on fiscal irresponsibility! Diane, I agree with you that this is more frightening than failure to agree on a deficit commission.

    Face it, Congress is far from ready to vote for any painful change. We’ll just have to suffer through the crash.

    Concord should consider shifting gears to warn everyone who relies on government payments or other aspects of the safety net that they need to plan to be self-sufficient. It’s time to re-connect with our families, who will be the primary safety net after the crash.

  3. comment number 3 by: Brooks

    Oh, and Diane, re: your post: Very well said!

  4. comment number 4 by: SteveinCH

    I agree. At least my home state will be well rid of Roland Burris soon.

  5. comment number 5 by: Phil Smith

    I was pleased that both my Georgia Senators votes Yea as well. I was going to very upset if they did not because they both told me to my face that they would support it (they told me this after the attacks on the Commission idea started coming from the left but before the right began to attack it).

  6. comment number 6 by: Brooks

    Steve,

    Ahh, I was wondering if your “CH” is for Chicago. I was in Evanston for a couple of years, and of course went into Chicago for my beer, etc.

    If my recollection is correct, it was ridiculous for Burris to insist on taking that Senate seat after being appointed by “Blago”, and I recall reading reports about him that indicate that he’s really, overtly into glorifying himself.

  7. comment number 7 by: Brooks

    Good piece by Gene Steuerle http://blogs.usatoday.com/oped/2010/01/column-the-us-is-broke-heres-why-.html
    (h/t Andrew Samwick http://capitalgainsandgames.com/blog/andrew-samwick/1446/steuerle-and-roeper-bring-us-fiscal-democracy-index#comment-5445 )

    One minor quibble: I think it’s a bit hyperbolic to speak of projected mandatory spending as having “taken democracy — the right to have lawmakers represent our real interests — out of the hands of newly elected officials”. I assume Gene doesn’t mean it quite that absolutely or he wouldn’t bother encouraging our current officials to change related policies. Perhaps I’m nitpicking, but we’re talking about a substantial difference as a matter of degree, rather than anything approaching an absolute. I think a good metaphor would be that discretionary spending can be steered like a small boat, closer to turning on a dime, whereas mandatory spending, particularly entitlements for seniors, can only (fairly, in the eyes of most voters) be scaled back gradually (phased in), turned gradually like a large ship.

    Of course, at least as troublesome (and, unfortunately, synergistic with the point above) is that the substantial growth in the 65+ population as a percentage of the total, coupled with their high voting rates and (I presume) their tendency to weigh protection of their entitlement benefits heavily in their choice of candidates, will make it even tougher for politicians to scale back such spending in coming decades. (That increased political difficulty will probably be partly offset by the fiscal [blank] hitting the fan and the voters finally being confronted with the need to choose among painful options, positioning cuts in projected mandatory spending more as the alternative to even higher taxes and even lower spending elsewhere than is the case today.) The 65+ population as a percent of total is projected to grow from about 14.8% today to 18.1% by 2020 and 21.7% by 2030 (I’ll put link in next comment to avoid triggering spam filter with three links in comment)

  8. comment number 8 by: Brooks

    Here’s that Census link http://www.census.gov/population/www/projections/usinterimproj/natprojtab02a.pdf

  9. comment number 9 by: Brooks

    53 votes + 7 votes would have = the needed 60 votes.

    Why do I mention 7 votes?

    This from ABC News:

    The fiscal commission vote today failed with 53 votes — seven shy of the required 60.

    The other lead sponsor of the bill, Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., said the vote was “yet another indication that Congress is more concerned with the next election than the next generation.”

    Republican Senators expressed concern that the task force would recommend tax increases in addition to spending cuts to deal with the nation’s structural deficit problem. In fact, seven Republican members of the Senate voted against the bill even though they originally cosponsored the bill: Sens. Robert Bennet of Utah, Sam Brownback of Kansas, Mike Crapo of Idaho, John Ensign of Nevada, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, James Inhofe of Oklahoma and John McCain of Arizona. All seven withdrew their names as cosponsors in the last week.

    All seven have reasons for trying to shore up their conservative base. Bennet and McCain face primary challenges in the Senate re-election campaigns. Brownback and Hutchison are running for governor. The embattled Ensign, currently in the midst of a major ethics investigation, is up for reelection in 2012. Crapo is running for reelection this year as well.
    http://blogs.abcnews.com/politicalpunch/2010/01/president-obama-to-push-bipartisan-debt-reduction-commission—-but-it-wont-have-any-power-to-force-a-vote.html

    Is there some award — perhaps a “Profile in Selfishness Award” — we can give those former co-sponsors who voted against the commission?

  10. comment number 10 by: Brooks

    David Broder column entitled “In rejecting a fiscal commission, senators betray the nation” http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/27/AR2010012703474.html?sub=AR