Senate Democrats try to defuse GOP budget drama

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.)
Greg Nash

Senate Democrats are trying to defuse political grenades that Republicans are lobbing during an hours-long budget fight.

The Senate is in the middle of an hours-long session as Democrats try to pass a budget resolution that greenlights them passing a $3.5 trillion spending plan later this year without GOP support.

As part of a potentially all-night marathon, Republicans are forcing votes on potential changes to the resolution. The votes are mostly symbolic because the efforts are nonbinding, but Republicans are hoping to squeeze Democrats on issues that the GOP views as prime fodder heading into next year’s midterm election.

Democrats have defeated several GOP amendments, which they can do if their entire 50-member caucus remains united. Democrats, for example, have defeated GOP amendments related to taxes, defense funding and requirements on in-school learning.

But in some instances what Republicans intended to be political pressure points have turned into unexpected moments of bipartisanship, with Democrats eager to sidestep messy fights that would fuel GOP talking points.

The debate started with Republicans trying to target Democrats over the climate change plan the Green New Deal.

Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.), the No. 3 Senate Republican, offered a nonbinding amendment supportive of prohibiting legislation implementing the Green New Deal, referring to a climate change plan touted by progressives that isn’t a specific bill; legislation that ships U.S. jobs overseas; legislation that imposes “soaring” electricity and other costs or makes the U.S. dependent on foreign supply chains.

But Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) urged Democrats to support the measure, saying he had “no problem” voting for it.

“As a supporter of the Green New Deal, I have no problem voting for this amendment because it has nothing to do with the Green New Deal,” Sanders said.

Hours later, Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) tried to offer a nonbinding change to the budget related to opposing defunding the police.

“The far-left rally cry of defund the price is not just D.C. rhetoric, they’re actually acting on it,” Tuberville said from the Senate floor.

But Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who has been involved in police reform negotiations, gave an energetic rebuttal — urging every senator to “sashay” to the center of the chamber and vote for the amendment.

“I am sure I will see no political ads attacking anybody here over defund the police,” Booker quipped.

After Democrats supported the amendment, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) office blasted out a press release entitled “Democrats Are Still The Party Of Defunding The Police.” And Tuberville’s office sent out a press release characterizing the vote as Democrats pouncing “at the chance to distance themselves from ‘defund police’ rhetoric.

Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) also offered an amendment to add language into the budget resolution on not increasing taxes on people who make below $400,000, accusing Democrats of “trying to pull a fast one” on Americans.

“This amendment will prevent Congress from breaking the Biden-Harris tax promise to pay for reconciliation,” Young said.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the Finance Committee chairman, said that Biden had “made clear” that he would not raise taxes on people who make up to $400,000 and that Democrats “are going to stand by that commitment.”

“This amendment is line with that approach,” Wyden said, referring to Young’s proposal. “I’m voting aye.”

Senators then clamored for Young’s amendment to be adopted by voice vote, letting them skip over a formal vote that would eat up more time. When Young demanded a roll-call vote, making every senator go on the record, some senators could be heard jeering him.

The bipartisanship has gone both ways. Republicans supported an amendment from Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) on honoring the Capitol Police and other law enforcement who defended the Capitol during the Jan. 6 attack.

There have been testy moments, including on a nonbinding amendment from Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) supporting preventing wealthy Americans from claiming a tax credit when they buy electric vehicles.

“This amendment is just plain anti-pickup truck,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).

She added that Democrats wanted to incentivize small businesses or farmers to buy electric vehicles and that Fischer’s proposal, if actually enacted, would prevent them receiving a financial incentive to do so.

“So I would ask you to vote no and stand with pickup truck owners across the country,” she said.

Fischer fired back: “We have a pickup truck and I ask for the yeas and nays.”

And Republicans have gotten some genuine, while symbolic, upsets. Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) offered nonbinding language in support of preserving the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funds from going toward abortion except for certain exemptions.

Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), the No. 3 Senate Democrat, spoke out against the amendment, calling it a “serious threat to women’s safety.”

“This amendment would vastly expand abortion restrictions on federal funding. I urge my colleagues to oppose this amendment,” she added.

But Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) voted with all 49 present Republicans, giving them enough support to add the nonbinding language into the resolution.

Tags Abortion Amy Klobuchar Bernie Sanders Cory Booker Deb Fischer Debbie Stabenow defund the police James Lankford Joe Manchin John Barrasso Mitch McConnell Patty Murray Ron Wyden Todd Young
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