This vote was on whether to allow to go forward an amendment by Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., that would have created new discretionary spending limits for three years. This would have had the effect of freezing spending at current levels for the next three years, effectively requiring Congress to keep the nation’s budget at the status quo.
Discretionary spending is the class of the budget that Congress has direct control over, in contrast with mandatory spending, which must go in certain amounts to certain programs, where by law Congress has no control over the amounts that get spent. The prime examples of mandatory spending are Medicare and Social Security. Sessions’ amendment was offered to a bill that would reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration and enact several new programs, including stricter pilot training recordkeeping standards and penalties for airlines that keep passengers idling on the tarmac too long.
After Sessions offered his amendment, Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, attempted to defeat it with a parliamentary maneuver for violating the Senate’s budgetary rules. Sessions then made a motion that the rules be waived in this case, which is what this vote was on.
Sessions said his amendment is a “small but significant step” toward fiscal responsibility.
“The level of spending we are limiting it to is the level in the Democratic budget that passed this year. The amount is not anything other than what the budget already calls for that was passed by a Democratic majority. It is the kind of numbers we probably could do better on and we probably could and should cut some programs,” Sessions said. “Regardless, what we are saying is, one of our big problems is we do not stick to whatever budget we have. We constantly violate the budget. Republicans have done this too. The debt now is spiraling out of control to a degree we have never ever seen in the history of our country. It is not responsible, and we have to stop it.”
Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, said Sessions’ amendment would “gut the president’s agenda” for education, green jobs, homeland security and more. Obama called for a one-year spending freeze on non-defense related discretionary spending, but Sessions’ amendment would have gone for three years.
“The critical flaw in this amendment is it fails to do anything serious about deficits. It fails to address the two principal reasons why our fiscal house is out of balance,” Inouye said. “It is a fact that the growth in the debt has resulted primarily from unchecked mandatory spending and massive tax cuts for the rich. This amendment fails to respond to either of those two problems. In short, this amendment is shooting at the wrong target.”
By a vote of 56-40, the motion to waive the rules and allow the amendment to go forward was defeated. Though more voted yes than no, this type of vote requires 60 in order to be considered passed. Every Republican present voted to waive the rules. Of Democrats present, 15 voted to waive the rules and 39 voted against (including the most progressive members). The end result is that the rules were not waived, the amendment was defeated, and the bill went forward without language that would have created new limits on discretionary spending for the next three years.