This vote was on allowing an amendment by John Thune, R-S.D., that would shift $400 million in money to an emergency fund to help promote health and safety among American Indians. The amendment would fund this by cutting .1 percent from other programs in the bill. The amendment was offered to a bill that funds most domestic agencies in fiscal 2009.
When Thune offered his amendment, Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., brought up a procedural objection known as a “point of order” stating that the amendment violated the rules of the Senate that prohibit spending more than the Senate’s budget blueprint.
A "point of order" is a procedural motion senators may bring up when they feel a bill, amendment or other motion violates certain rules set out by Congress to govern itself. Unless senators vote to waive those rules – which usually takes 60 votes, a large margin in the Senate -- the bill, amendment or motion in question can be killed by the point of order. After a point of order was raised, Thune then made a motion that the rule be waived in this case.
Thune said Congress last year passed a bill to help fund priorities on tribal lands, including health care, water development and public safety, but has not so far adequately funded it. His amendment would fund it through shaving a small percentage off of every program in the bill.
“The question is, Will it be an 8.3-percent increase or an 8.2-percent increase? What I am simply saying is, you make it an 8.2-percent increase and use that one-tenth of 1 percent to fund a program this Congress, this Senate voted to authorize last year,” Thune said. “It is not a question of whether all the programs that are funded in the bill are going to get an increase. They are all going to get an increase, a substantial increase. Under my amendment, it is simply an 8.2-percent increase as opposed to an 8.3-percent increase.”
Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, said Thune’s amendment is unacceptable because it would make the bill fall afoul of the Senate’s budget rules. He also said it would make cuts indiscriminately to other important programs – including some that fund other priorities for Native Americans.
“This means there will be cuts in job training, law enforcement, cancer research, highway funding, food inspection, energy research, and on, and on, and on. I know that no single cut will be that great, but if we are going to go down this road, where will it end?” Inouye said.
By a vote of 26-68, the motion was rejected. Of Republicans present, 25 voted for the motion and 14 voted against it. All but one Democrat present voted against the motion. The end result is that the motion to waive the rules and allow an amendment to shift $400 million into Native American programs failed, and the amendment subsequently died.