This vote was on whether to allow to go forward an amendment by Jim Bunning, R-Ky., that would have paid for a bill to extend several expiring programs by repealing a tax break for certain paper products. The amendment was offered to a bill that would extend for 30 days COBRA health insurance premium assistance, a law that governs certain kinds of network satellite TV broadcasts, transportation funding and small business lending. Without the extension these programs all were set to expire at the end of the month.
This vote in particular was on whether to waive the Senate’s budget rules to allow Bunning’s amendment to go forward. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., attempted to use a parliamentary maneuver to defeat Bunning’s amendment as violating one of the Senate’s budgetary rules. Bunning then asked that the rule be waived in this case, which is what this vote was on.
“I am concerned about all the other programs in this bill as well, as is every other Member of this body. That is all the more reason to pay for this bill. If we cannot pay for a bill that all 100 Senators support, how can we tell the American people with a straight face that we will ever pay for anything? That is what Senators say they want, and that is what the American people want. They want us to get our budgets in order, just like they have to get their budgets in order every day. But that is not what the majority is doing,” Bunning said.
Bunning, who is not seeking re-election, had singlehandedly held up the bill – which extends programs that would otherwise have expired on Feb. 28 – because he was upset that it didn’t raise revenues to pay for what it spent on programs. Democrats offered him a vote on an amendment similar to this one, but he wouldn’t budge and the programs expired, causing 2,000 Transportation Department workers to be furloughed for about two days. It turned into a publicity nightmare for Bunning, who was portrayed as crazed in pursuit of a nebulous goal; Democrats hammered at Republicans for what they termed obstructionism. Bunning eventually relented and allowed votes on the bill to go forward.
“During this 1-week period of time while the Senator from Kentucky could have offered an amendment, he did not. As a result, on Sunday night, unemployment benefits were cut off for thousands of people across America, assistance for health care insurance cut off all across America, thousands of Federal employees were furloughed, Federal contracts for construction were suspended. Why? Because he did not want to offer the amendment he is offering tonight,” Durbin said. He added that there isn’t enough time to make changes to this bill, then wait to have the House sign off on it, because the programs have already expired and time is of the essence.
By a vote of 43-53, the motion to waive the rules and allow Bunning’s amendment was defeated. Every Republican present voted to waive the rules. All but three Democrats present voted against waiving the rules. The end result is that the motion to waive the rule was defeated and Bunning’s amendment to pay for the bill by striking a tax credit for certain paper products was defeated by a parliamentary motion. The Senate then moved toward final passage (see vote 33).