What: All Issues : Making Government Work for Everyone, Not Just the Rich or Powerful : Adequate Government Funding for a Broad Range of Human Needs : S 389. (Increasing court security) Motion to defeat an amendment seeking to curb federal spending by Coburn of Oklahoma/On the motion to table (2007 senate Roll Call 134)
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S 389. (Increasing court security) Motion to defeat an amendment seeking to curb federal spending by Coburn of Oklahoma/On the motion to table
senate Roll Call 134     Apr 18, 2007
Progressive Position:
Yea
Progressive Result:
Win

This vote was on an amendment by Tom Coburn, R-Okla., stating that the Senate feels it should not create new spending programs if money has to be borrowed to fund them. This would include authorizing more than what is appropriated for any certain program. When it comes to program funding, Congress passes two types of bills -- authorization bills, which set the amount of funding a program may receive; and appropriations bills, which sets the level of funding a program is actually going to receive. Often, authorization bills contain funding levels significantly higher than what a program may actually receive from the federal coffers. The amendment was offered to an unrelated bill that aims to decrease violence against judges.

"In fact, we ought to create priorities, that the priorities ought to be the same type of priorities that everybody in this country has to face every day with their own personal budget, that they cannot go out and use their credit card without having a consequence," said Coburn, who frequently crusades against federal spending, including spending allocated for other members' pet projects.

Patrick Leahy, who called a vote on defeating Coburn's amendment, could not resist a shot at Republicans over how much money they have spent in the past several years. "I wish we were back in the days of President Clinton, where we built up a surplus and started paying down the Federal debt; other than what a Republican-controlled Congress voted for, which has tripled the national debt," Leahy said.

Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said he agrees with the problems created by spending more money than what is available in the federal treasury. But he said that Coburn's amendment "goes further than we can, realistically." Specter's position was not surprising, given that he sits on the Appropriations Committee, which zealously protects its turf.

"It is common practice to have authorizations that will be substantially beyond what an appropriation will be. The real decisive factor is what money is appropriated, what money is spent, not what moneys can be authorized. But in structuring programs and authorizations, it is the common practice to put a figure in that is larger than may be used, but it is there for purposes of contingency, if more should be used, so that the real critical factor is the appropriations process," Specter said.

The Senate defeated Coburn's amendment 38-59, with a majority of Democrats voting against the amendment, though five voted for it. Republicans were more fractured, with 33 voting in favor the amendment, and 13 voting against it with Democrats. Thus, the amendment was defeated, and the bill went forward without language stating that Congress should not authorize more money than what is available to spend.

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