This vote was on whether to allow to go forward an amendment by Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., that would have created new discretionary spending limits, with the exception of Defense Department or homeland security-related spending. Discretionary spending is the class of the budget that Congress has direct control over, contrasted with mandatory spending, which must go in certain amounts to certain programs, by law; Congress has no control over the amounts that get spent. The prime examples of mandatory spending are Medicare and Social Security. Specifically the Inhofe amendment would have frozen discretionary spending at fiscal year 2008 levels, through fiscal 2020.
The Inhofe amendment was offered to another amendment by John McCain, R-Ariz., that would have made it easier to use a parliamentary maneuver to defeat bills that allow members of Congress to direct money home to pet projects (known as “earmarks”) if there is a federal deficit.
Both amendments were 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.
Inhofe said his amendment follows on to a request made by President Obama in his fiscal 2010 budget to freeze non-security-related discretionary spending for fiscal 2010.
“The problem I have with that is, this is after it has already been increased by 20 percent, so it is kind of a big deal. You increase it by 20 percent and then you freeze it,” Inhofe said. “It is the same language that is in the Obama proposal, but I am taking it back to 2008. This would have the effect over a period of time, over a 10-year budget cycle, of reducing the amount by about—just under $1 trillion, $900-some billion.”
Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, said freezing spending for the next 10 years is not a viable solution to the nation’s debt.
“While I understand and support the need to restrain discretionary spending as a part of the solution to our debt problem, this draconian approach is most certainly not the way to accomplish that task,” Inouye said. “As I have said before, 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, as have several offered from the other side of the aisle, fails to respond to either of those two problems. For this reason alone, my colleagues should not support it. We need a comprehensive solution to the national debt, one that addresses spending, mandatory programs, and revenues. Any honest budget analyst can tell you we will never achieve a balanced budget just by freezing discretionary spending.”
By a vote of 41-56, the motion to waive the rules and allow Inhofe’s amendment to go forward was rejected. All but one Republican present voted to waive the rules. All but two Democrats present voted against waiving the rules. The end result is that the rules were not waived, the Inhofe amendment was defeated with a parliamentary maneuver and the bill went forward without language that would have frozen most discretionary spending at fiscal 2008 levels for the next 10 years.