With only one week left until their annual two-week recess for Easter and Passover, Congress had a lot of work to do. Both the House and Senate passed a budget resolution, voted on tons of amendments, and the House passed a huge health care bill. Here are some of the highlights from this crazy week on the Hill.
The House voted Wednesday on its budget plan (H.Con.Res 27), which passed narrowly, 219-208, with 26 Republicans voting against. Although the budget contained a number of excellent policies, fiscal conservatives were dismayed by the leadership’s use of “emergency” war funds to boost defense spending without accounting for the new money elsewhere.
The House also voted on a number of alternate budget plans, including the Republican Study Committee’s budget (which received 132 GOP votes), and the horrendous Progressive Caucus budget (which could only muster 96 Democrat supporters).
Senate Budget and Vote-a-Rama
The Senate voted on its own budget (S.Con.Res. 11) late Thursday night (or early Friday morning). The Senate allows for a fairly open amendment process to its budget resolution, and over 500 amendments were submitted. Because the rules governing the relevance of amendments are looser for the budget than for other Senate bills, every senator uses the budget as the opportunity to submit amendments on nearly any issue they want to see come to the floor.
Of the amendments that were offered, nearly 60 were brought up for an actual roll call vote, most during a marathon session called the “vote-a-rama” that ran for over 14 hours of solid debate and votes. Unfortunately, many of the best amendments weren’t voted on, but there were still some highlights:
- A Vitter amendment to allow states to opt out of Common Core standards without losing federal money passed, 54-46.
- Another Vitter amendment to make Congress only receive the same subsidies under ObamaCare as their constituents passed, 52-46
- A Thune amendment to completely repeal the estate tax (the “death tax”) passed, 54-46
- A Blunt amendment to prevent Congress from ever passing a carbon tax passed, 58-42
- A Lee amendment to prevent Congress from using budget reconciliation language to pass an increase in the debt ceiling passed, 54-44
Importantly, however, these amendments do not have any actual force of law by themselves – the budget resolution is only a guidelines document.
FreedomWorks graded the major budget plans on our annual Budget Scorecard, which you can see HERE. Though both the House and Senate budgets have some major faults, it is worth noting that if both chambers pass a unified budget resolution after the recess, it would be the first time since 2009 that Congress has fulfilled this fundamental task.
The “Doc Fix” Breaks the Budget
One day after passing its plan to balance the budget, the House proceeded to pass a health care bill that actually adds to our budget deficit. Congress needed to pass a “doc fix” to prevent doctors from taking a massive cut in Medicare reimbursements on April 1st, but they also needed to pay for the fix by finding savings elsewhere in the budget. Instead, the $200 billion cost of the bill was only offset by about $70 billion in savings, with a promise that some minor tweaks to Medicare would make up for the rest at some undefined time in the future. The bill also reauthorized the CHIP program – the government’s single-payer health care entitlement program for low-income children.
FreedomWorks issued a key vote alert against this bill, which you can read HERE. Knowing that many fiscal conservatives could not easily support such a deal, House leadership went to the Democrats for support, and the bill passed handily, 392-37.
The Senate will have to deal with the doc fix bill as soon as they get back from their recess.