In the wee hours of Friday morning, the Senate passed a budget resolution by the slimmest of margins, 51-50 votes, with Joe Biden’s vice president casting the deciding vote. The Senate’s resolution was not an authorization or spending bill described in Liberty Nation’s two-part tutorial on the budget process. It was a budget resolution. Budget resolutions are a unique tool that Congress has to provide top-line spending guidance to the various authorization and appropriations committees. Yet, the $1.9 trillion ceiling on the resolution should cause a bit of a stutter in your step.
Consider that the Congressional Budget Office projects interest on the Federal Debt will rise from $241 billion, where it was in 2016, to $768 billion in 2027. That’s more than the 2021 defense funding.
The budget resolution provides “both a comprehensive view of the Federal Government’s finances and a plan for Congress to address the Nation’s fiscal challenges.” Additionally, a resolution, because it is not a law, is just an agreement between the House of Representatives and the Senate that does not require the President’s signature.
Elections Really Do Have Consequences
Forbes’s correspondent Siladitya Ray described the Senate deliberations this way: “The passage of the plan took all of Thursday night and into the early hours on Friday, as the ‘vote-a-rama’ process allowed senators to make an unlimited number of changes, forcing votes on all those amendments.” The close result indicates that the Dems had to bludgeon their way to a winning vote. Passing the immense $1.9 trillion COVID stimulus relief budget guidance paved the way for committees to begin work on details of an actual funding bill expected sometime in mid-March.
The vote passed with a simple majority rather than the usual 60 votes for most pieces of legislation because spending and budget bills are reconciliation bills. Special rules apply to make such legislation easier to pass in the Senate. Additionally, reconciliation bills cannot be held up in the Senate by filibuster. Other types of legislation require 60 votes to pass to protect the Senate’s minority position. But in this case, we are experiencing the painful truth that US Senate elections have consequences. Again, from Forbes’s Ray:
“Republicans have been critical of the legislative process in the lead-up to Friday’s approval as Democrats in the Senate, and House voted this week to push Biden’s stimulus bill forward using a special process called budget reconciliation, which only requires a simple majority for passage. This will allow Democrats who have slim control of the Senate—50 Democratic senators with the vice president casting the tie-breaking vote—to pass the final bill without any Republican support.”
Democrats Have Their Own Fight Ahead
Nonetheless, the Dems do have a difficult road to getting a spending bill for the $1.9 trillion passed.
Senator Manchin (D-WV) has made it very clear that he strongly favors that the final appropriations will be bipartisan. Additionally, the Democrats are by no means of one mind on what the final bill should look like. There is a large philosophical gap between socialist Bernie Sanders on the far left, now Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee (you gotta love the seniority system), and Manchin somewhere near the center. Jonathan Nicholson of Market Watch explained the challenge the Dems have this way,
“[T]he fragile nature of their coalition, ranging from the liberal Sen. Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and shepherd of the final bill in the Senate, to Sen. Joe Manchin, a moderate West Virginia Democrat. Manchin has said he wants the final package to be bipartisan, and he won’t vote for provisions in it that would violate the so-called Byrd rule, which limits what can go into a reconciliation bill.”
Republicans grumbled that the process that resulted in the partisan vote would undermine Biden’s call for bipartisanship. Does this strike you as the epitome of naïvete? My goodness, when have Democrats ever worried about bipartisanship when power was on the line? And when it comes to spending, the simile of the “drunken sailor” takes on new meaning.
Nicholson concludes his article with the news that Nancy Pelosi promises: “It’s not the last bill we’ll pass. This is the rescue package.” The Speaker assures that a separate “recovery bill” is planned for later in the year. And fiscal conservatives can be heard gagging.
A lot of conservatives will be hoping that when the relevant committees take on the budget resolution details, there will be an adult or two in the meeting – or that perhaps Senator Manchin will finally put his vote where his mouth is.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
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