S. 1. (Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007), Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) amendment to require the government to be funded automatically if Congress fails to pass the necessary annual spending bills/Motion to waive the Budget Act
senate Roll Call 6 Jan 11, 2007
This vote was on an amendment proposed by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) that would have required that if Congress failed to pass the spending bills that fund the federal government before the beginning of the next fiscal year, the government would continue to operate at the previous year's spending levels until new appropriations bills were passed.
The bill to which DeMint was attempting to amend would overhaul Congressional lobbying and ethics rules for Senators and their staffs, prohibit the acceptance of gifts and free meals, extend the time period before former Senators can become lobbyists and outlaw lobbyist-funded travel.
In 24 of the past 25 years Congress has failed to pass some or all of the annual appropriations bills that fund the government on time, thereby threatening to cut off Social Security checks and other federal obligations. In order to stave off such a government shutdown, Congress usually passes what are known as continuing resolutions, which fund federal agencies and programs at the previous year's spending levels. Sometimes multiple continuing resolutions are required before all of the appropriations bills are finally passed. Usually what happens is that many or all of the spending bills are then rolled into one huge piece of legislation, numbering in the thousands of pages, easing the way for the addition of billions of dollars worth of pet projects by individual lawmakers, a process that has been criticized as "pork-barrel" spending. The pet projects are often known as "earmarks."
Many government watchdog groups have steadfastly maintained that this now routine process of passing what are known as omnibus appropriations bills is wasteful and corrupt. DeMint proposed to clean it up by making the continuing resolutions automatic, which he believes would make Congress less likely to make hasty decisions about phone-book sized legislation that lawmakers couldn't possibly have a chance to read in an atmosphere with impending government shutdown.
"It is completely unnecessary to do this every year," DeMint said on the Senate floor. "We know, in the last years, it is not unusual for us to pass a continuing resolution in the middle of the night and put it on a jet airplane and fly it to the other part of the world so the President can sign it at the last minute so we won't send all our Federal employees home and cut services around the country. It is a game we play every year that encourages bad legislation, it encourages unnecessary earmarks, and it encourages us to operate with blinders on because we don't know what we are voting on."
DeMint believed his proposal to be "simple, commonsense legislation that does not cost the country anything." But things are sometimes more complicated in the parliamentary world of the Senate. Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.C.), who chairs the Budget Committee, pointed out during debate that the Congressional Budget Office, which puts a price tag on legislation so lawmakers know how much individual proposals would cost the taxpayers, would "score" DeMint's amendment at half a trillion dollars because the office would treat the amendment as essentially prefunding the 2008 spending bills.
Under rules put in place by the 1974 Congressional Budget Act, unless a tax break or spending increase is offset by spending cuts or revenue increases elsewhere in the federal budget, the Budget Act has to be waived. On those grounds, Conrad raised what's known as a point of order against DeMint's amendment. By law, a three-fifths majority of the whole Senate (60 votes) is required to waive the Budget Act.
Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) voiced opposition to DeMint's amendment on grounds that the "'crisis atmosphere'" DeMint portrayed does not exist to the extent he alleged. He furthermore said that DeMint's amendment would essentially surrender Congress' constitutional power of the purse.
"We don't need an automatic formula of this sort," Cochran said. "What we need to do is get to work, debate legislation, move it through in the regular order, and get it done. We should not abdicate our responsibilities and put government on autopilot."
The bill to which DeMint was attempting to amend would overhaul Congressional lobbying and ethics rules for Senators and their staffs. The legislation would prohibit the acceptance of gifts and free meals, extend the time period before former Senators can become lobbyists and outlaw lobbyist-funded travel.
A majority of the Senate agreed with Cochran, and by a vote of 25-72 voted not to waive the Budget Act to allow DeMint's amendment. All 47 Democrats present voted against the amendment, and Republicans were almost evenly split, 25 in favor of DeMint's proposal and 23 opposed. Thus, legislation to reform lobbying and ethics rules for Senators and their staffs went forward without a provision that would have required the federal government to be funded automatically if Congress fails to pass the necessary spending bills.
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