Friday, December 20, 2013

Senate passes budget deal: Alexander and Corker vote "no."

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today released the following statement on his vote against the Ryan-Murray budget agreement:

I voted against the budget agreement because it avoids the federal government’s most urgent need: reducing the growth of runaway entitlement spending. Instead, it spends savings that should be used to strengthen Medicare, pensions, and the air transportation system. It is particularly troubling that the budget agreement takes money from pensions in a way that treats military retirees worse than the civilian federal employees.
It would have been better to pay for this agreement with a small part of the $1 trillion in entitlement savings that Sen. Corker and I have identified in our ‘Fiscal Sustainability Act,’ or with entitlement savings suggested in the president’s budget.

Although I can’t support it, I appreciate the efforts of Rep. Ryan and Sen. Murray to bring certainty to the budget process, which is why I voted Tuesday to allow a Senate vote on their agreement, which had passed the House with two-to-one Republican support. In addition to its failure to address growth of mandatory entitlement spending – such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security – Alexander cited four major objections to the budget agreement. Alexander objected to the agreement because it:
  • Cuts $22 billion in 2022 and 2023 in Medicare reimbursements to doctors and other health care providers, for savings that may never materialize.
  • Increases pension premiums paid by employers to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. by $7.9 billion, to pay for unrelated spending.
  • Cuts the annual cost-of-living benefits for military retirees under the age of 62 by 1 percent, to pay for unrelated spending. This would impact current retirees, as opposed to new hires as in the case of changes to civilian federal employee pensions.
  • Increases by $12.6 billion airport security fees – which generally get passed on to airline passengers – to pay for unrelated spending. Such fees should be used to improve airport security.
In February, Senators Alexander and Corker introduced the “Fiscal Sustainability Act,” S. 11, to reduce the growth of entitlement spending (Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security) by nearly $1 trillion in the next decade in order to improve the programs’ solvency. The bill incorporates many of the recommendations made by President Obama’s Debt Commission (Simpson-Bowles) as well as by former Republican Senator Pete Domenici and Alice Rivlin, budget director for former President Clinton.

Also voting against the budget deal was Senator Bob Corker. Corker issued this statement:

Because of the Budget Control Act, for three years in a row, Congress has spent less on discretionary programs than the year before.  While I appreciate the dilemma Paul Ryan was in, it's disappointing the misguided strategy of the House this fall weakened our hand on fiscal issues and that House appropriators indicated they were unwilling to live within the budget discipline laid out in the sequester.   So with the afterglow of the ‘bipartisan’ deal fading, I think everyone can see this budget deal busts the budget caps by $45,000,000,000 in the first year alone without making meaningful changes to mandatory programs, violating the only real progress we have made in getting our fiscal house in order and demonstrating that Congress continues to lack the discipline to control spending even in this small way.  Spending now and paying later is the cause of our deficit problems, not the solution.

Senator Corker also voted against cloture, which was the vote to end debate on the budget deal. Majority Leader Harry Reid filled the amendment tree on the bill on Sunday, allowing no amendments and no debate.  Since there was no debate and there were no amendments, Corker did not feel it was appropriate to support cloture. Senator Alexander, on the other hand, did support the cloture motion.

The Senate vote on the budget deal was 64-36.  Among Republicans, 36 voted "no" and only 9 voted in favor.

In the House, the vote was 332 to 94 with Republicans voting in favor 169 to  62. Tennessee's delegation supported it 7-2 . The "no" votes were DesJarlais and John Ducan. Marsha Blackburn, Diane Black and the rest of the Tennessee Republicans voted for the deal.

This is very interesting. Many tea party Republicans praise Marsha Blackburn and view Alexander and Corker as "RINO."  In this instance, the more conservative vote, the position advocated by Heritage Action and other conservative activist groups, was a vote against the budget deal.

I do not think one can say with certainty which was the correct way to vote. My heart is with those who voted "no," but my head is with those who voted "yes."  I understand those who cast a principled "no" for the reasons expressed by Corker and Alexander above.  On the other hand, the logic of voting "yes" was strategic. If we had not approved a budget compromise, the reasoning goes, we would have faced another government shutdown. Republicans would have gotten the blame and Republicans would have suffered in the 2014 election. It is better to keep the 2014 election focused on the failures of the Obama administration, Obamacare and issues that divide the parties, rather than defend and explain a government shut down. To eventually prevail on cutting the size of government and reducing the debt, Republicans must retake the Congress.  A "yes" vote was thought of as strategically, the wise thing to do, in order to win in the long run.

I just wish their had been a more unity among Republicans and more of them would have voted the same way. Either vote, I think was defensible, I just wish they would have gotten on the same page. One good think to come out of this vote however, is that the ultra conservative pressure groups cannot criticize Alexander and and Corker for this vote. When some who they do not like voted the way they wanted them to, and when some who they really like voted the way they did not want them to, I think that weakens the power of the ultra conservative pressure groups and I am beginning to think that is a good thing.

To view the roll call of the Senate vote, follow this link.  To view the complete roll call of the House follow this link: Final Vote Results for Roll Call .

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