|The Hill's must-read Floor Action blog covered the Senate budget "vote-o-rama" extremely well, and you can find all the roll calls here. For this post, I picked out the amendments that seemed most significant. Senators approved another long list of amendments in a block by unanimous consent.
In one of the first budget-related votes, Senators approved a bipartisan amendment to repeal one of the taxes included in the 2010 health care reform law, a 2.3 percent tax on medical devices. George Zornick described the issue at hand in The Nation:
Opponents claim the tax will push medical device manufacturers overseas, costing a substantial amount of jobs, and will also stifle innovation, hurt small businesses, and cause increased costs for healthcare consumers.
The problem, however, is that virtually none of this is true. And the bipartisan push to repeal the tax-driven in large part by fealty to medical device companies in senators' home states, which can be generous campaign contributors-underscores the many landmines that await if Congress takes up comprehensive tax reform at some point this year.
Closing loopholes in the tax code is easily said, but much harder to do when big-money special interests are involved, and the public isn't really watching.
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The chief attack on the medical device tax, which applies to everything from bedpans to MRI machines, is that it will cost jobs-a potent claim given the country's high unemployment. [...]
The job loss claims fall apart upon even brief inspection. The tax applies on medical devices sold in the United States, not manufactured here-so moving a plant to Mexico doesn't change anything. Medical device companies would have stop selling their products in the United States to escape the levy, which is simply unbelievable. The American healthcare market is by far the most lucrative in the world, as the country spends more on healthcare than any other by many orders of magnitude. No company is likely to leave the American market or even to reduce sales in order to avoid a 2.3 percent tax.
An analysis by Bloomberg Government found that the Advamed study's job-loss figures-which were not supported by empirical evidence but simply industry claims-"conflict(s) with economic research, overstate companies' incentives to move jobs offshore, and ignore(s) the positive effect of new demand."
Indeed, demand is an important part of this equation. Medical device makers are likely to come out ahead as a result of healthcare reform. The law is projected to expand coverage to 33 million more Americans, so that's a lot of extra medical devices. That was the original rationale for taxing the industry: the law is a huge boon to medical device manufacturers, so they should kick in a rather small tax to help fund the law. Now the industry is trying to wiggle out of the tax to come out even more ahead.
This post by Paul N. Van de Water lays out a more detailed case against repealing the excise tax on medical devices--not that most senators cared. More than half the Democrats joined all of the Republicans to approve this amendment by 79 votes to 20 (roll call). Harkin was one of the "no" votes.
A Republican effort to repeal a different tax increase contained in the health care reform law (on catastrophic medical expenses) failed on a party-line vote. As you can guess, Grassley supported that amendment, while Harkin opposed it.
Senators later rejected a Republican amendment that would have repealed the Affordable Care Act altogether. Grassley supported that amendment, but Harkin and the whole Democratic caucus voted it down by 54 votes to 45.
Another health care reform-related amendment failed too.
The Senate rejected an amendment to the budget that would have banned illegal immigrants from qualifying for "ObamaCare" and Medicaid during the period of legal status.
Senate Budget Committee ranking member Jeff Session (R-Ala.) introduced the amendment, which failed on a 43-56 vote. His amendment would have prohibited illegal immigrants, who later gain citizenship, from getting healthcare coverage under the Affordable Care Act or through Medicaid. [...]
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) offered a counter amendment that restated current law, which says undocumented people cannot receive federal benefits. His amendment passed by voice vote.
"Current law already explicitly excludes undocumented people from receiving benefits," Menendez said. "This is not a great way to do your outreach to the Hispanic and immigrant community."
Grassley voted for the Sessions amendment, while Harkin voted against it.
On Thursday night, Harkin and the rest of the Senate Democrats rejected one of Grassley's amendments. Ramsey Cox explains,
Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray's (D-Wash.) budget raises $975 billion in new revenue through closing tax loopholes on the wealthy and corporations. It does so by instructing the Senate Finance Committee to come up with a plan to close corporate and individual tax breaks by Oct. 1. The instructions would allow the Finance Committee to move a tax reform bill without facing a filibuster.
Grassley's amendment would have removed the reconciliation instructions and replaced them with a call for "deficit-neutral tax reform."
"We should not raise taxes another trillion dollars," Grassley said ahead of the vote. "We should not close loopholes for more spending. We only close loopholes for deficit reduction. ... We'll grow the economy with more pro-growth tax reform."
Murray's budget includes $100 billion in stimulus funding that Democrats say will help economic growth and workforce training. It has already come under heavy fire from Republicans who say it over-estimates the extent to which it would reduce the deficit, and raises $1 trillion in new taxes. Democrats say their budget cuts the deficit by $1.85 trillion over 10 years through an equal amount of spending cuts and new revenue, but the GOP has said that because it assumes the sequester will not happen, the amount of deficit reduction is closer to $700 billion.
Grassley's amendment went down on a party-line 54 to 45 vote. Along the same party lines, senators rejected Republican Kelly Ayotte's effort to prohibit any tax increases while the national unemployment rate remains above 5.5 percent.
At least Grassley and Ayotte had the support of all their Republican colleagues. When Democratic Senator Patty Murray forced a vote on House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's budget, five Republican senators joined Democrats to reject it. Grassley was one of the 40 Republicans who voted for the Ryan budget alternative.
Most Senate Republicans didn't want to stick their necks out for Ryan's plan to transform Medicare into a voucher program for Americans under age 55, though. Democrat Debbie Stabenow offered an amendment to "establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund to protect Medicare's guaranteed benefits and to prohibit replacing guaranteed benefits with the House passed budget plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program." It passed by 96 votes to 3; Grassley was a yes vote, like most of his Republican colleagues. The GOP dead-enders who voted no were Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Mike Lee.
Later, Rand Paul offered an alternative budget that, he claims, would balance in five years by cutting $2.3 trillion in taxes and cutting $9.6 trillion in spending. Only 18 Senate Republicans voted for Paul's budget (roll call); Grassley wasn't one of them.
Some other bipartisan measures passed during the budget debate, including an amendment "empowering states to collect taxes for online sales." Harkin was one of the 75 supporters of that amendment, while Grassley was one of its 24 opponents.
Speaking of tax votes, senators rejected a Republican amendment to repeal the estate tax permanently. Grassley and most of the GOP caucus supported that amendment, while Harkin and most of the Democrats voted against it.
A Democratic amendment related to the estate tax drew bipartisan support. Mark Warner's amendment expressed support for repealing or reducing the estate tax, but "only if done in a fiscally responsible way" (that is, offsetting the estimated revenue losses). More than half the Democrats joined all the Republicans to approve that amendment by 80 votes to 19. Harkin was one of the no votes, which all came from the Democratic caucus.
Another tax-related amendment offered by Republican Rob Portman would "require the Congressional Budget Office to include macroeconomic feedback scoring of tax legislation." This wonky language means that politicians supporting big tax cuts could downplay the impact on the deficit by speculating about future economic growth. Jason Furman wrote this good "short guide to dynamic scoring" (another term for "macroeconomic feedback scoring). Sarah Ayres described five reasons why this is a "bad method for estimating the cost of proposed legislation."
Six conservadems crossed over to help the united GOP caucus pass Portman's amendment on dynamic scoring by 51 votes to 48. Like most Democrats, Harkin had the good sense to oppose this amendment.
Here's something you don't see often: a 99 to 0 roll call vote. It was for a Republican amendment that "ends 'Too Big To Fail' subsidies or funding advantages for Wall Street mega-banks with more than $500 billion in assets."
Republican Johnny Isakson found support in both parties for his proposal to establish a biennial budget and appropriations cycle--that is, every two years rather than every year. Both Harkin and Grassley were part of the 68 to 31 majority that approved that amendment.
During the "vote-o-rama," the Senate considered some symbolic non-binding amendments. The good news is that by a voice vote senators approved an amendment co-sponsored by Harkin:
The Senate voted Friday night to oppose cutting entitlement benefits for veterans using a new method of calculating inflation.
President Obama has put the new method, known as chained consumer price index, on the table in deficit talks with Republicans. Using it reduces entitlement benefits like Social Security over time and also raises revenues by reducing the value of tax breaks.
Bleeding Heartland discussed here why "chained CPI" is such an atrocious idea. Obama should be ashamed for advocating this "reform."
Another symbolic Senate vote on Friday was more depressing; 17 Democrats joined all the Republicans to put the Senate on record supporting the KeystoneXL pipeline project. I was relieved to see that Harkin voted against this amendment, but then I remembered that after 2014, both of Iowa's U.S. senators will be supporters of the KeystoneXL boondoggle. Braley has been on record backing the pipeline for a long time, although he should know better.
A fair number of Democrats joined Republicans in symbolic votes against levying new taxes on industrial carbon emissions (not that anyone has seriously pushed for that lately). Harkin was not one of the Democrats who voted with Grassley and the Republicans on this issue.
In a different vote on a non-germane amendment, senators rejected Marco Rubio's effort to put the chamber on record supporting an anti-abortion bill. Rubio's legislation would make it "a crime to transport minors across state lines to obtain an abortion, and requires doctors to give 24 hours notice to parents before performing an abortion." Technically, the Senate did not vote on Rubio's amendment; by 51 votes to 48, they rejected a motion to waive budget rules to allow a vote on this matter. Grassley and most of the Senate Republicans voted to waive the rules, but Harkin and most of the Democrats voted against doing so.
In another mostly party-line vote, senators rejected an amendment calling for photo ID requirements to vote in federal elections. Grassley supported that amendment, while Harkin opposed it.
Several amendments dealt with defense spending or foreign aid. On a mostly party-line vote, senators rejected an amendment "to eliminate non-defense related spending by the Department of Defense." Grassley supported that amendment, while Harkin opposed it.
A smaller number of Republicans went along with Rand Paul's proposal to cut foreign aid and Department of Energy loan guarantees, spending the money saved on interstate bridge projects. Grassley was one of the 26 votes in favor of that amendment; Harkin was one of the 72 votes against it.
Republican Ted Cruz sought to cut foreign aid to Egypt in order to fund the East Coast Missile Defense Shield. Grassley was one of the 25 Republicans to vote for throwing more money at that pipe dream. Harkin was one of the 74 senators who defeated the amendment.
Several amendments passed by voice votes toward the end of the long debate, Ramsey Cox reported for The Hill. One would "require political committees and campaigns to pay the full mailing price." Another would "eliminate the cap on health savings accounts and not require a doctors' prescription for the purchases made through with a health saving account on over the counter medicine." Another would fund biomedical research.
The very last non-germane amendment considered before the vote on final passage was related to gun rights. Ramsey Cox reported for The Hill,
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) introduced an amendment that would prevent the United States from entering into the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty in order to uphold the Second Amendment. His amendment passed on a 53-46 vote.
Republicans have been critical of President Obama's decision to consider the treaty, although Obama has said he would not vote for anything that would violate the Second Amendment.
The U.N. Arms Trade Treaty would regulate international arms sales. Negotiations end on March 28. [...]
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) offered an alternative amendment that clarified that under current U.S. law, treaties don't trump the Constitution and that the United States should not agree to any arms treaty that violates the Second Amendment rights. His amendment passed by voice vote.
Some Democrats crossed over to pass that Inhofe amendment by 53 votes to 46. Harkin stuck with most of the Senate Democrats, who voted against it.
On March 21, Harkin spoke in favor of the Democratic budget on the Senate floor. You can view that speech here. Harkin press release, March 23:
March 23, 2013
Harkin Statement on the Budget Resolution Approved by the U.S. Senate
This budget says, loudly and clearly: Our No. 1 priority is to fight for a stronger middle class
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today issued the following statement after the U.S. Senate approved a budget resolution for Fiscal Year 2014. Late Thursday, Harkin spoke on the floor of the Senate in support of the measure. The differences between this resolution and that approved by the U.S. House must now be worked out in conference.
"A budget is a moral document. It sets forth a vision for the kind of country that we want for our people in the years ahead. In this respect, the rival budget resolutions put forward by the Senate and the House offer radically different moral visions. We face a fundamental choice: Are we going to rescue, restore, and rebuild the struggling middle class in this country? Or are we going to continue to shift even more wealth and advantages to those at the top - at the expense of the middle class? The Senate budget resolution approved today says, loudly and clearly: Our No. 1 priority is to fight for a stronger middle class, even as we dramatically reduce deficits and stabilize the debt by the end of the decade.
"This budget calls for a balanced approach to deficit reduction, both spending cuts and revenue increases. It also locks in significant deficit reduction measures, but phases them in over the longer term to minimize damage to our struggling economy. It rejects harsh austerity in the short run, an approach that that has been so disastrous for economies across Europe. And finally, it takes immediate steps to strengthen the still-fragile economy by making new investments in infrastructure and innovation which, along with support for education, will create a stronger, more competitive economy in the years ahead.
"The American people overwhelmingly favor this kind of balanced approach to deficit reduction. And the good news is that there are many options for raising revenues without lifting tax rates or hurting the middle class. Certainly, we can put an end to expensive loopholes in the tax code that give international companies tax breaks for moving jobs to other countries and that allow wealthy hedge-fund managers to pay a lower tax rate than many teachers and nurses.
"The Senate's budget - with its balanced approach, its emphasis on bolstering the middle class - stands in stark contrast to the Republican Tea Party budget approved by the U.S. House, which presents a radically unbalanced approach. It dismantles Medicare and Medicaid. It repeals the new health reform law, stripping more than 30 million non-elderly Americans of the prospect of health coverage. It concentrates two-thirds of its spending cuts on programs serving the middle class and working families.
"The same budget that demands radical budget cuts from the middle class and the poor, insists on a new bonanza of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. The top two percent - the very people whose incomes have skyrocketed in recent years - would see their tax rate reduced from 39.6 percent to a new rate of just 25 percent.
"As the differences in these two resolutions are worked out in the coming days, I hope that compromise, commonsense, and good-faith negotiations will be used to address our budget challenges in a way that strengthens our economy and rebuilds the middle class."
I have not seen a statement from Grassley since the final vote on the budget, but on March 22, his office sent out this memo to reporters:
TO: Reporters and Editors
RE: Grassley health-care related amendments
DA: Friday, March 22, 2013
Senator Chuck Grassley filed two health care related amendments to the Senate budget resolution on the floor. It's uncertain if the amendments will receive a vote. Text of the amendments is here.
· Amendment #242 would create a deficit-neutral reserve fund for an FMAP bonus for any state that enacts medical liability reform.
"The President's health care law failed to drive down health care costs. Abusive lawsuits and runaway jury awards drive up health care costs, and state medical liability reform laws have proven that these kinds of reforms improve patient access to care and stabilize medical liability insurance premiums, translating into savings for taxpayers. In the absence of medical liability reform at the national level, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates could save as much as $57 billion, we at least ought to encourage states that are willing to take the lead in working to lower health care costs, and an FMAP bonus is an incentive," Grassley said.
· Amendment #243 would create a deficit-neutral reserve fund for rescinding reductions in Medicaid disproportionate share hospital allotments of states that choose not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
"Likewise, the low-income people served by disproportionate share hospitals should not be punished for states that make a legitimate decision that it's fiscally irresponsible to count on the federal Treasury for a major Medicaid expansion, along with a spending commitment that may be unsustainable at the state level. The Supreme Court said the federal government could not coerce states into expanding Medicaid, so it's wrong for the budget resolution to withhold DSH dollars from states that do not expand Medicaid under Obamacare," Grassley said.
Deficit-neutral reserve funds allow the Budget Committee Chair to revise allocations within the budget resolution.
FMAP - or Federal Medical Assistance Percentages - are used in determining the amount of federal matching funds to states for medical program expenditures.
Disproportionate Share Hospital payments provide federal dollars to help hospitals that serve a significantly disproportionate number of low-income patients. States receive an annual allotment to cover the costs of these hospitals that provide care to low-income patients not paid by other payers such as Medicare, Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program, or other health insurance.
UPDATE: As Bleeding Heartland user ModerateIADem pointed out in the comments, an important trade-related amendment passed during the budget debate as well. This March 23 press release from Republican Senator Rob Portman provides the positive spin:
This morning, the Senate unanimously passed an amendment by U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Ron Wyden, both members of the Senate Budget and Finance Committees, to the Democrats' budget that would implement a deficit-neutral reserve fund that encourages swift movement on renewing Trade Promotion Authority. Portman is former United States Trade Representative.
"Exports are crucial to getting America's economy back on track, but unfortunately the United States is falling behind in the global marketplace," Portman said. "With 95 percent of the world's population beyond our borders, we must proactively engage our trading partners to tear down trade barriers. While I support the export agreements the Administration is considering, the President's trade negotiators must have TPA to ensure we get the best possible deal for American workers. I am open to 21st century reforms to TPA, but this must be prioritized in order to level the playing field for American workers."
The American economy depends on exports. In fact, just last month the Commerce Department announced that U.S. goods and services exports set a record in 2012, reaching $2.2 trillion last year. This is good progress, but there is still much ground to be covered in the global marketplace. As a percent of GDP, U.S. exports are just 13.9 percent, tied with Haiti and Pakistan.
The Administration is currently negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership export agreement with 10 countries in the Asia-Pacific region. On Wednesday, the Administration formally notified Congress that they will soon launch export negotiations with the European Union. In addition, the Administration is negotiating an International Services Agreement, which seeks to bring down barriers for a sector that the U.S. has a large trade surplus and a major competitive advantage.
Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) allows Congress to lay out important negotiating objectives and consultation requirements to ensure that our trade negotiators work closely with Congress to protect American workers, and to ensure that these export agreements can pass without delay.
In the 112th Congress, Senators Portman and Lieberman introduced a bipartisan bill to extend Trade Promotion Authority.
TPA lapsed in 2007, and the Administration said in the recently released 2013 Trade Agenda that they will work with Congress to authorize this important authority.
In 2011, the Senate rejected a Republican amendment that would have renewed the trade promotion authority as it existed up to 2007.