Senate approves debt ceiling suspension: How the Iowans voted

Yesterday the U.S. Senate approved by 64 votes to 34 a bill that would suspend the country’s debt ceiling until mid-May and withhold the salaries of senators unless the Senate approves a budget by April 15. Iowa’s Senator Tom Harkin supported the bill, as did all but one Democrat. Senator Chuck Grassley opposed the bill, like most other Senate Republicans. Details on the bill and on the amendments considered yesterday are after the jump.

The House approved this bill last week, with three of Iowa’s four representatives voting yes.

Last week the Washington Post’s Lori Montgomery and Rosalind S. Helderman summarized the key points of the No Budget, No Pay Act:

Under the proposal, the Treasury Department would be permitted to ignore the $16.4 trillion cap on government borrowing, running up additional debt to pay the nation’s bills through May 18. At that point, the debt limit would automatically reset at a higher level.

In an analysis released Wednesday, the Bipartisan Policy Center predicted that the Treasury would run up about $450 billion in additional debt during that period and that the date of potential default would be postponed at least until the end of July.

The House measure also requires senators to adopt their own budget blueprint by April 15 or have their paychecks withheld and placed in escrow until this session of Congress ends in 2015.

A few senators who are not millionaires could be hurt by losing their regular paychecks. Speaking to The Hill last week, Harkin predicted that the Senate will approve a budget by April 15, rendering that portion of the bill irrelevant. He also derided the House effort as “ridiculous and sophomoric.”

Before the vote on final passage yesterday, the Senate considered and rejected four Republican amendments as well as a motion to recommit the bill. Ramsey Cox summarized those for The Hill:

The first, which would have required a dollar in spending cuts for every dollar increase in the debt ceiling, was introduced by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and failed in 54-44 vote that tabled the amendment.

A second amendment offered by Portman, also tabled in a 52-46 vote, would have implemented automatic continuous spending resolutions if Congress doesn’t agree on appropriation bills. But if Congress still didn’t act within 120 days of the spending bills, the amendment would have reduced government spending by 1 percent immediately and cut another 1 percent for every 90 days that followed.

An amendment from Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) requiring the Secretary of Treasury to prioritize federal spending if the debt ceiling is not raised again was tabled in a 53-45 vote.

His amendment would have guaranteed three types of payments: interest on the debt, Social Security checks and active duty service member salaries, even if the debt ceiling weren’t raised.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) introduced an unrelated amendment that would have prohibited the transfer of F-16s, M1 tanks and other defense items to Egypt. That was rejected on a 79-19 vote to table.

The last vote before final passage was on a motion to recommit the bill, introduced by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.). His motion would have directed the Senate Finance Committee to find dollar-for-dollar spending offsets for this three-month debt ceiling suspension. It failed on a 53-45 vote – 60 votes were needed for passage.

Grassley supported all of the failed Republican efforts, while Harkin helped Democrats vote them all down. Senate business can occasionally be confusing: in this instance, the five roll calls show Harkin voting yes and Grassley voting no on motions to table the Republican amendments.

Final note: while Iowa’s senators often disagree on legislation, it’s rare and perhaps unprecedented for a bill out of the Republican-controlled House to draw a “yea” from Harkin and a “nay” from Grassley. On the other hand, this wasn’t a typical House GOP bill, because many House Republicans opposed it last week, while many House Democrats supported it as a way to avoid defaulting on the national debt.

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