On adopting the rules for consideration (H. Res. 370) of the five-year budget resolution (H. Con. Res. 99/S. Con. Res. 21)/Rule for a conference
house Roll Call 306 May 08, 2007
This vote was on adoption of the rules for consideration for a House-Senate budget resolution for fiscal 2008 through fiscal 2013.
The rule was necessary because the House Republican leadership did not agree to the customary unanimous consent agreement to allow the House to go to a join House-Senate conference committee on a Senate-numbered bill. The House Democratic leadership planned to take up the Senate's version of the budget resolution and then replace it with the House's version in a parliamentary move known as a substitute amendment.
Rules of consideration are required to take up particular measures in the House, but commonly both parties agree to proceed on simple parliamentary matters without such formalities, a procedure known as unanimous consent. Republicans were opposed to this budget resolution because they said it laid out plans for what they called the biggest tax increase in American history, and they decided to begin their efforts to frustrate its passage not with the consideration of the resolution itself but with a usually non-controversial technical matter.
The budget resolution forms the blueprint for spending decisions for the next five years. It is passed by the House and Senate but is not signed by the president nor does it have the force of law. (That is why it is referred to as a resolution and not a bill.) Nonetheless, the ability of both chambers to agree on budget priorities is considered a prerequisite to responsible spending and good governance as it gives the 12 spending panels on the Appropriations Committee guidance and reflects consensus on how the multi-trillion dollar pie of federal spending should be sliced.
This vote made way for the House's consideration of the budget resolution before it was to be sent to a House-Senate conference committee to iron out differences between the two chambers' versions. During three of the past five years of Republican control of Congress, one or both chambers failed to pass the budget resolution and the spending process proceeded without one.
Logistically, adoption of this rule meant that the House would take up consideration of the Senate's version of the fiscal 2008 budget resolution and then automatically amend it with the text of the House resolution. It would then be in order for the House to insist on its version when House and Senate negotiators met to decide on a compromise plan. That resolution would then need to be sent back to each chamber for its approval in order for the budget resolution to be considered adopted.
Among the differences between the chambers was the total fiscal 2008 discretionary spending (which excludes Medicare and Social Security funding), which the House's version set at $956 billion and the Senate wanted to see lowered by $7 billion. (The House's figure was also $23 billion more than President Bush requested.)
"The rule is very simple," Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.) said. "It allows the House to disagree with the Senate budget resolution and request a conference.
"This rule is necessary, Mr. Speaker, because the Republican leadership refused to agree to the customary unanimous consent request required to go to conference on a Senate numbered bill," McGovern continued. "In fact, there is no instance in recent memory where a separate rule has been adopted to go to conference with the Senate on a budget resolution due to the objection of a unanimous consent request. Mr. Speaker, I am having a hard time figuring out why my Republican friends are choosing to be obstructionists on even the most routine housekeeping measures."
Republicans countered that they were simply opposing what they labeled the largest tax increase in American history. What they were referring to was the budgetary treatment of future actions to renew tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003. Because the budget resolution is not binding, however, the debate essentially amounted to what sort of political statement Congress would make on the extension of the tax cuts, which are set to expire in 2010. (The sun-setting provision was originally put in place, at least in part, to mask their huge budgetary consequences at the time of enactment.)
In its version of the resolution, the Senate went on record in supporting the extension of some of those tax cuts by financing their costs with expected surpluses. The House outlined its support for the extension of certain tax breaks less formally, drawing Republican criticism.
House Republicans said that the House Democrats' plan amounted to a tax increase. Democrats said they placed a higher priority on balancing the budget in five years while not cutting spending, and accused Republicans of running up the national debt since Bush took office.
Democrats maintained that the resolution promised to extend the child-tax credit, the so-called marriage penalty relief, the 10 percent individual income tax bracket, estate tax reform, the research and development tax credit and the education of state and local sales taxes, but those tax provisions were not included in the formal budget.
"By voting against this rule," Republican Rep. Pete Sessions (Texas) said, "every Member of this body can demonstrate their opposition to the federal largesse included in this budget, as well as their opposition to the largest tax increase in American history."
On an almost completely party-line vote, the House voted to approve the rule. Republicans were unanimous in their opposition, and all but two Democrats voted for its adoption. Thus, on a vote of 221 to 197, the House moved to take up the Senate's version of the fiscal 2008 budget resolution and replace it with the text of the House version. The move was a Democratic victory over objections by Republicans who said that the budget amounted to blueprint for a tax increase because the House's version did not formally budget for the extension of tax cuts passed in 2001 and 2003 that expire in 2010.
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