This vote was on an amendment by Judd Gregg, R-N.H., that would have created a new 60-vote “point of order” against any budget resolution in the next 10 years that shows an increase in public debt equal to or greater than the debt accumulated between 1789 and Jan. 20, 2009. 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. Gregg's amendment would have added a new rule by which legislation can be defeated unless it is waived by a 60-vote margin.
Gregg's amendment was offered to the budget resolution that serves as the blueprint for Congress’ budget priorities in fiscal 2010. The budget resolution sets overall spending targets for the Appropriations committees and outlines other budget rules.
"I call this the 1789 amendment because it simply says that if there is a budget brought forward after January 2009 that raises the debt of this country more than all the debt added up by all the Presidents since 1789 ... as regrettably President Obama’s budget does ... then there will be a point of order against that budget so it will take 60 votes in this body to pass that budget," Gregg said. "It comes about as a result of one of the elements that I see as the core of the problem with the President’s budget, and that is that we, under the budget as proposed by the President, are going to pass on to our children an unsustainable Government and a debt which will essentially put them in a position where their quality of life will be dramatically reduced because of the burden of the debt they have to pay relative to the Federal deficits that have been run up."
Kent Conrad, D-N.D., chastised Republicans for not offering an alternative, but rather just saying "no." He also castigated Republicans for discussing how much debt Obama has run up in three months in office, compared to the debt run up by the Bush administration.
"This is their opportunity, if they are as unhappy as they say, to offer an alternative. But they don’t have one. They don’t have an alternative. They don’t have an alternative budget. They don’t have an alternative vision. All they want to do is say no," Conrad said. "When I hear the other side talk about the growth of debt, I have to ask, where were they the last 8 years? Where were they when the previous administration doubled the debt of the country?"
"This President inherits the colossal mess left behind by the previous administration, a debt that had more than doubled, foreign holdings of U.S. debt more than tripled, and the worst economic slowdown since the Great Depression. This President has been in office 3 months. Under the terms of the amendment they are now offering, they act as though he is responsible for debt run-up during the previous administration. Please. That has zero credibility," Conrad said.
By a vote of 43-54, the amendment was rejected. Every Republican present voted for the amendment. All but two Democrats present voted against the amendment. The end result is that the bill went forward without language that would have established a new budgetary rule against any budget resolution that increases the public debt by more than what the country has taken on in its history, from 1789 to Jan. 20, 2009.