This vote was on whether to allow to go forward an amendment by Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., that would have required Congress, for the next four years to freeze discretionary spending at fiscal 2010 levels. Discretionary spending is a class of money that Congress has direct control over, as compared to mandatory spending (such as Social Security), which by law must be spent in specified amounts on specified programs, no matter what Congress may wish to do. It also would have limited spending on overseas military deployments. The amendment was offered to a bill that would extend for varying lengths of time, mostly around a year, several programs that would otherwise have expired within a month. These include unemployment benefits, heath insurance subsidies for the unemployed, small business loans, flood insurance and other items.
After Sessions offered his amendment, Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, used a parliamentary maneuver to try to kill the amendment for violating the Senate’s budgetary rules. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., then made a motion that the rules be waived in this case, which is what this vote was on.
McCaskill, who cosponsored the amendment with Sessions, said it would, in essence, force Congress to freeze discretionary spending at fiscal 2010 levels, with some exceptions.
“This amendment is one of those opportunities where we get to walk the walk. There is an awful lot of talk about how we have to do something about spending. There is a lot of misinformation out there about this amendment. First of all, it exempts emergencies. It exempts mandatory spending, such as [unemployment insurance] and [COBRA health care premiums]. It exempts our wars,” McCaskill said. “This is the moment we can walk the walk instead of just talking the talk and show the American people we get it. Two percent is not unreasonable in terms of increases every year when we look at the pile of debt we have to deal with in the coming decades.”
Inouye said the amendment “says one thing and does another.”
“It says it will help control Federal spending, but it leaves mandatory spending off the table when that is the area of rampant growth over the past decade. It also circumvents the Deficit Reduction Commission, which was created a few days ago to look at both spending and revenues by prematurely cutting discretionary spending, and it may require the Appropriations Committee to cut more than $100 billion from national defense,” Inouye said.
By a vote of 59-41, the motion to waive the rules and allow the amendment to go forward was rejected. Though more voted yes than no, this type of vote requires 60 votes in order to be considered approved. Every Republican present voted to waive the rules. Of Democrats present, 17 voted for the motion to waive the rules and 40 voted against (including the most progressive members). The end result is that the motion to waive the rules was rejected, the amendment was defeated, and the bill went forward without language that would have frozen discretionary spending for the next four years at fiscal 2010 levels.