CHN: FY 2006 Budget Resolutions Clear House, Senate Floor
Both chambers of Congress have passed budget resolutions for fiscal year 2006 that will make steep cuts in services for vulnerable people in the coming years. On March 17, the Senate budget resolution passed 51 to 49 . Republican Senators Snowe, DeWine, Voinovich and Chafee joined with all Democrats and Independent Jeffords in voting no to S. Con. Res. 18. That same day, by a vote of 218 to 214 , the House also passed its budget resolution (H. Con. Res. 95).
When Congress returns from recess on April 4, they are expected to begin ironing out the differences between the two resolutions in a conference committee. At this time, no conferees have yet been named.
Senate Rejects Cuts to Medicaid
One big difference between the two resolutions is the approach they take towards Medicaid. The Senate voted to strip out of the Senate budget resolution instructions to the Finance Committee to cut $15 billion from programs under its jurisdiction. It was widely assumed those cuts would come out of Medicaid. Republican sponsor Gordon Smith (OR) was joined by fellow Republican Senators Olympia Snowe (ME), Susan Collins (ME), Lincoln Chafee (RI), Arlen Specter (PA), Norm Coleman (MN), Mike DeWine (OH), Democratic co-sponsor Jeff Bingaman (NM), and all Democrats to protect Medicaid. The amendment passed 52 to 48.
Unfortunately, the House resolution contains instructions to the Energy and Commerce Committee to “find savings” of $20 billion from programs under its jurisdiction. It is assumed that at least $14.9 billion of this would come from cuts to Medicaid and/or State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).
The House resolution would cut $216 billion in domestic discretionary programs over the next five years; the Senate resolution would cut $203 billion over five years. Discretionary programs are those that must be appropriated each year, such as education, workforce training, child care, WIC, LIHEAP and Head Start. Neither the House nor Senate budget resolutions describe how individual programs would fare; rather they specify overall discretionary spending levels.
The Senate agreed to an amendment sponsored by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) which boosted the total level of discretionary spending in the Senate budget resolution by $5.4 billion, an unexpected bright spot in the debate. Sen. Kennedy’s amendment was aimed at increasing spending for education, but because the resolution does not give program-specific numbers, there is no guarantee the increased spending (if it survives conference committee) will end up in education.
The Senate also adopted an amendment that seeks to avert cuts to the Community Development Block Grant. Because the amendment does not add any dollars to the budget, the effect is mostly symbolic, but sends the message that the Senate rejects the steep cuts proposed by the President.
No Stopping New Tax Cuts
One disappointment was the failure of the Senate to apply any brakes to the runaway train of new tax cuts for the wealthy. With a 50-50 tie vote, the Senate rejected a “pay-as-you-go” amendment offered by Senator Feingold that would have held tax cuts to the same sorts of limits applied to new spending. Later on, Senators got on the wrong track and instead voted to put MORE tax cuts in the budget resolution.
As it went to the Senate floor, the resolution allowed for $70 billion in new tax cuts and gave those tax cuts the special protection of reconciliation procedures. This would mean the $70 billion tax cut bill to be written by the Finance Committee later this year will need only 51 votes to pass even though it is not paid for, rather than the typical 60 votes needed to approve legislation that would deepen the deficit. Senators defeated an amendment offered by Senator Carper that would have removed fast-track reconciliation protection from the new tax cuts. Senator Carper’s amendment would have required at least 60 Senators to agree to the $70 billion in unpaid-for tax cuts included in the Senate resolution.
Later in the day, Senators passed an amendment offered by Senator Bunning that nearly doubled the size of the tax cut package to $129 billion, of which $128 billion is protected by reconciliation. The budget resolution does not specify which tax cuts should be included in the $129 billion, but Senator Bunning intended his amendment to repeal a tax on Social Security benefits of upper income retirees enacted in 1993.
Unacceptable cuts to entitlement (mandatory) programs remain in both resolutions. The House budget resolution would cut $30 to $35 billion from programs including Medicaid, food stamps, and low-income programs under the jurisdiction of the House Ways and Means Committee, such as foster care and adoption assistance, the Earned Income Tax Credit, SSI, child care, TANF and child support enforcement.
The Senate resolution includes instructions to the Agriculture Committee to cut $2.8 billion from programs under its jurisdiction – cuts that could come from food stamps or farm supports. The political strength of farm organizations worries low-income advocates about the outcome of a head-to-head competition for inadequate funds. The Senate rejected an amendment offered by Senator Baucus that would have stripped those cuts out of the resolution. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has written a paper that calculated the effect cuts of this magnitude could have by state: http://www.cbpp.org/3-30-05bud.htm .
In a major difference from the House budget, the Senate resolution does not include instructions to fast-track cuts to other low-income programs. Next Steps Because they were unable to produce a budget last year, House and Senate budget negotiators will be doubly intent on smoothing out differences between their resolutions this year to produce a conference resolution. The next two weeks are crucial. Advocates should let their senators and representative know how much is at stake.
CBPP chart comparing House and Senate budget resolutions *** Page Not Found