It was bad news for conservatives as the Senate wrapped up its budget processes. Not only did Republican defections narrowly prevent repeal of Bill Clinton’s 1993 tax increase on Social Security benefits, but senators also turned back an amendment to cut pork-barrel earmarks out of the supplemental spending bill that was meant to fund the Iraq war effort. Meanwhile, one bright spot was the Republican success in blocking a tax increase coupled with extra pork spending for “first responders”?a code word for “welfare for spendthrift local governments.”
Senate Almost Repeals Tax On Social Security
On March 25, by a vote of 48 to 51, the Senate rejected an amendment to the budget outline (S.Con.Res. 23) sponsored by conservative Sen. Jim Bunning (R.-Ky.) that would have made it possible to repeal President Bill Clinton’s 1993 tax on Social Security benefits.
However, the vote was taken in the absence of pro-tax cut Sen. Zell Miller (D.-Ga.). Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R.-Tenn.) supports the amendment, but he voted against it so that he would be in the majority on this vote. Under Senate rules, his ‘No’ vote gives him the right to call for another vote on the amendment at a later date.
After the vote, it appeared that Republicans would be able to repeal the tax on Social Security later this year on a 50-50 vote, with Miller present to vote ‘yes,’ Frist voting ‘yes,’ and Vice President Dick Cheney (R.) casting the tie-breaking vote. But a spokesman for Frist’s office said that Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.) said later that his “yes” vote had been accidental. McCain claimed he had meant to vote “no,” on this roll call, leaving conservatives one vote short.
Bunning explained his amendment by looking back to the origin of the 1993 tax on Social Security, which passed the Senate in a 51-50 vote, with Vice President Al Gore casting the tiebreaker.
“[The amendment] repeals the Clinton tax increase on Social Security benefits that passed by one vote in 1993,” said Bunning.
Before 1993, seniors had to pay income taxes on 50% of their Social Security benefits?on the theory that they never had to pay income taxes on their employers’ contributions to Social Security on their behalf.
However, after the Clinton tax hike, those who made over $34,000 and couples who made over $44,000 had to pay taxes on 85% of their Social Security income.
In spite of their willingness to use senior citizens at election time by scaring them and convincing them that Republicans want to take away their Social Security, the Democrats?to a man?voted against the repeal of this tax hike.
So did Sen. George Voinovich (R.-Ohio), who has been on an anti-tax-cut spree lately (see third rollcall below, and rollcalls last week on page 30.) Voinovich explains his aversion to tax cuts in this year’s budget in terms of the large deficit faced by the U.S. government this year.
A “yes” vote was a vote for the Bunning amendment to repeal the Clinton tax on Social Security benefits. A “no” vote was a vote against the amendment.
FOR THE AMENDMENT: 48
REPUBLICANS FOR (48): Alexander, Allard, Allen, Bennett, Bond, Brownback, Bunning, Burns, Campbell, Chambliss, Cochran, Coleman, Collins, Cornyn, Craig, Crapo, DeWine, Dole, Domenici, Ensign, Enzi, Fitzgerald, Graham (S.C.), Grassley, Gregg, Hagel, Hatch, Hutchison, Inhofe, Kyl, Lott, Lugar, McCain, McConnell, Murkowski, Nickles, Roberts, Santorum, Sessions, Shelby, Smith, Snowe, Specter, Stevens, Sununu, Talent, Thomas, and Warner.
DEMOCRATS FOR (0)
AGAINST THE AMENDMENT: 51
REPUBLICANS AGAINST (3): Chafee, Frist, and Voinovich.
DEMOCRATS AGAINST (47): Akaka, Baucus, Bayh, Biden, Bingaman, Boxer, Breaux, Byrd, Cantwell, Carper, Clinton, Conrad, Corzine, Daschle, Dayton, Dodd, Dorgan, Durbin, Edwards, Feingold, Feinstein, Graham (Fla.), Harkin, Hollings, Inouye, Johnson, Kennedy, Kerry, Kohl, Landrieu, Lautenberg, Leahy, Levin, Lieberman, Lincoln, Mikulski, Murray, Nelson (Fla.), Nelson (Neb.), Pryor, Reed (R.I.), Reid (Nev.), Rockefeller, Sarbanes, Schumer, Stabenow, and Wyden.
INDEPENDENT AGAINST (1): Jeffords.
NOT VOTING (1): Miller.
Republicans Block Tax Hike, Pork For Local Police
On April 1, by a vote of 47 to 51, the Senate narrowly rejected an amendment by Sen. Pat Leahy (D.-Vt.) that would have raised taxes on more successful Americans. It also would have increased the level of funding in fiscal year 2004 for “first responders” by $3 billion, nearly doubling it for a total of $6.5 billion.
This money would supposedly go to support policemen, firemen, and paramedics in their efforts to “protect homeland security and prevent and respond to acts of terrorism.” But in fact it was a shameful attempt to subsidize Vermont and actually make the nation less prepared for terror attacks against likely targets.
“When one calls 911, they get the state and local; they do not get Washington,” said Leahy. “They need the money.”
Leahy did not consider the possibility that states and local governments could raise the money themselves, as they always have since before the Declaration of Independence.
To begin, the entire issue of federal “first responder” money is really just a political ploy by Democrats. The money will almost certainly go to fix the bottom lines of cash-strapped municipalities nationwide and help keep in existence unnecessary political patronage jobs. Not a dime of it will actually go to thwart acts of terror.
Nonetheless, Democrats smell Republican blood in the water on this issue, and have chosen to pursue it as a political matter.
As a result, a major issue in next year’s presidential campaign will be “What is homeland security money for?” Should it be used to gather intelligence, hunt down terrorists and prevent acts of terror from happening, as Republicans propose? Or should it be used as the Democrats want: to pork up local police and fire departments nationwide, effectively causing the federal government to take over local government functions, and causing a geographic redistribution of tax money?
It is also worth mentioning that their proposed geographic redistribution will be extremely inequitable as well. Thanks mostly to Leahy?who helped develop the formula for divvying up “homeland security” money among the states?it will be redistributed from populous states and municipalities that actually face terrorism threats?such as New York and California?to states that face almost no threat?like Vermont and South Dakota.
This amendment was really just Leahy’s way of helping his own constituents tremendously at the expense of the rest of the United States. The state of Vermont will already get approximately six times as much “terrorism aid” per capita as California, and Leahy now wants to help Vermont double its welfare jackpot, so that the whole state can sponge off the riches of commercial centers such as New York City and Los Angeles.
Unfortunately, Republicans appeared unwilling to take on the pork-barrel issue head-on. “While this amendment is well intended and we all support the goal of strengthening our effort to deliver the safety and health assistance that is needed at the local levels, this amendment is unnecessary,” said Sen. Thad Cochran (R.-Miss.).
In addition, Leahy’s amendment would have hiked taxes by $6 billion, repealing the Bush tax cuts of 2001 for those with annual incomes greater then $300,000.
President Bush has promised that this will not happen as long as he is alive and in office.
A “yes” vote was a vote for the Leahy amendment, to raise taxes, double the amount of money redistributed from larger states to smaller ones through the federal government, ultimately making America less prepared for acts of terrorism. A “no” vote was a vote against the amendment.
FOR THE AMENDMENT: 47
REPUBLICANS FOR (0):
DEMOCRATS FOR (46): Akaka, Baucus, Bayh, Biden, Bingaman, Boxer, Breaux, Byrd, Cantwell, Carper, Clinton, Conrad, Corzine, Daschle, Dayton, Dodd, Dorgan, Durbin, Edwards, Feingold, Feinstein, Graham (Fla.), Harkin, Hollings, Inouye, Johnson, Kennedy, Kerry, Kohl, Landrieu, Lautenberg, Leahy, Levin, Lieberman, Lincoln, Mikulski, Murray, Nelson (Fla.), Pryor, Reed (R.I.), Reid (Nev.), Rockefeller, Sarbanes, Schumer, Stabenow, and Wyden.
INDEPENDENT FOR (1) : Jeffords.
AGAINST THE AMENDMENT: 51
REPUBLICANS AGAINST (50): Alexander, Allard, Allen, Bennett, Bond, Brownback, Bunning, Burns, Campbell, Chafee, Chambliss, Cochran, Coleman, Collins, Cornyn, Craig, Crapo, DeWine, Dole, Domenici, Ensign, Enzi, Fitzgerald, Frist, Graham (S.C.), Grassley, Gregg, Hagel, Hatch, Hutchison, Inhofe, Kyl, Lugar, McCain, McConnell, Murkowski, Nickles, Roberts, Santorum, Sessions, Shelby, Smith, Snowe, Specter, Stevens, Sununu, Talent, Thomas, Voinovich, and Warner.
DEMOCRATS AGAINST (1): Nelson (Neb.).
NOT VOTING (2): Lott and Miller.
Senate Blocks Pork-Stopper Amendment
On April 3, by a vote of 38-61, the Senate rejected an amendment by Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.) that would have removed unauthorized and earmarked pork barrel spending provisions from the Senate bill that will fund the war effort in Iraq (S. 762).
Unfortunately, McCain and the conservative co-sponsors of his amendment were unable to strip from the $80-billion supplemental spending bill several items completely unrelated to military spending.
For example, senators from Vermont managed to sneak into the bill $500,000 for the Great Lakes Fishery Commission to be used for sea lamprey control in Lake Champlain. In addition to the fact that Lake Champlain is not and never has been a Great Lake, the well-being of its aquatic environment has no bearing on the war in Iraq.
The two senators from Vermont?both strongly opposed to the war effort?used the cover of the war spending bill to bring home taxpayers’ money and prop up their state’s economy, which is failing because of anti-growth regulations and high local taxes.
McCain also spoke out against several other appropriations that his amendment would have removed, including $225,000 allocated for the Mental Health Association of Fort Worth, Tex., and $1,000,000 for the Gunslinger Health System, Harrisburg, Pa., to establish “centers of excellence” for the treatment of autism.
Another controversial item was $200,000 set aside for the AIDS Research Institute at the University of California, San Francisco. The money would not actually go toward AIDS research per se, but rather, toward the importation of Third Worlders to research AIDS at UCSF?in other words, as the bill states, “for Developing County Medical Program to facilitate clinician exchange between the United States and developing countries.”
McCain’s amendment also threatened much larger appropriations, including $98 million set aside for an agricultural research center in Ames Iowa, $50 million to guarantee shipbuilding loans, and $1 million for the Jobs for America’s Graduates job training program.
“Today, with many of our young men and women in harm’s way, we should be considering a measure to support the ongoing war effort and our nation’s homeland security needs free of earmarked or unauthorized provisions,” said McCain. “Unfortunately, that is not the case with the bill before the Senate. I wonder why we could not once?especially with a war going on?bring forward a bill that was free of unnecessary provisions in wasteful earmarks. I hoped we could do it just once.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R.-Iowa), chairman of the Finance Committee and normally a strong conservative, nonetheless defended the pork in the Senate bill being brought back to Ames, Iowa.
“That is the National Animal Disease Laboratory?a national facility, not an Iowa facility?in Ames,” he said. “I am here now to explain to all my colleagues the importance of this facility to America’s national security. In the event of an animal disease outbreak, this facility in Iowa will play a very crucial role.”
He did not explain why the provision belonged in a military spending bill.
Sen. George Voinovich (R.-Ohio), who told HUMAN EVENTS (see March 20 issue, page 5) that he so despises deficits that he actually voted to shrink the President’s proposed tax cut last month?failed to follow through on his concern for deficits. Instead, the normally conservative senator joined with the bi-partisan majority have voted to keep the bill loaded with pork.
In spite of support from a mixed group of hard-core conservatives, good-government liberals and others who may have felt their own pork projects had been shortchanged, the amendment failed. As a result, the military supplemental spending bill came out $5 billion higher than the President’s request.
A “yes” vote was a vote for Sen,McCain’s amendment, to strip unauthorized and earmarked pork projects from the bill that is meant to pay for the war effort. A “no” vote was a vote against the amendment.
FOR THE AMENDMENT: 38
REPUBLICANS FOR (31): Alexander, Allard, Allen, Brownback, Bunning, Chambliss, Collins, Cornyn, Craig, Crapo, Ensign, Enzi, Fitzgerald, Graham (S.C.), Hagel, Hutchison, Inhofe, Kyl, Lott, Lugar, McCain, Nickles, Roberts, Santorum, Sessions, Smith, Snowe, Sununu, Talent, Thomas, and Warner.
DEMOCRATS FOR (7): Biden, Bingaman, Corzine, Dayton, Feingold, Graham (Fla.), and Miller.
AGAINST THE AMENDMENT: 61
REPUBLICANS AGAINST (20): Bennett, Bond, Burns, Campbell, Chafee, Cochran, Coleman, DeWine, Dole, Domenici, Frist, Grassley, Gregg, Hatch, McConnell, Murkowski, Shelby, Specter, Stevens, and Voinovich.
DEMOCRATS AGAINST (40): Akaka, Baucus, Bayh, Boxer, Breaux, Byrd, Cantwell, Carper, Clinton, Conrad, Daschle, Dodd, Dorgan, Durbin, Edwards, Feinstein, Harkin, Hollings, Inouye, Johnson, Kennedy, Kohl, Landrieu, Lautenberg, Leahy, Levin, Lieberman, Lincoln, Mikulski, Murray, Nelson (Fla.), Nelson (Neb.), Pryor, Reed (R.I.), Reid (Nev.), Rockefeller, Sarbanes, Schumer, Stabenow, and Wyden.
INDEPENDENT AGAINST (1): Jeffords.
NOT VOTING (1): Kerry.