John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate, took time out from his busy campaign schedule on March 10 to return to Washington, D.C., and vote for a new tax hike.
Senate Democrats pushed 14 different votes on tax hike proposals two weeks ago as the Senate considered its five-year, $2.36-trillion budget plan (S. Con. Res. 95) for fiscal 2005 and beyond.
Kerry was present on March 10 for only one of these 14 tax-hiking amendments–and he voted for it.
After skipping two tax-hiking votes in the afternoon, Kerry showed up for five votes in the evening starting at 5:55 p.m., Senate records show. The last vote was a tax hike. After voting “aye” on the final roll call of Wednesday night to raise taxes by $1.8 billion, Kerry turned up absent the next day and missed a series of 11 additional tax-hike votes.
Kerry’s office did not respond to queries from HUMAN EVENTS about whether he would have voted “aye” on the 13 tax-hike votes he missed.
Taken together, the Democrats’ floor amendments would have increased taxes by a total of $86 billion next year, and $443 billion over five years. They also would have increased federal spending by $81 billion next year, and $319 billion through 2009, according to estimates provided by the Republican-controlled Senate Budget Committee.
Although all 14 tax-hiking amendments were defeated on the Senate floor, two other key Democratic amendments passed, one of which erects a new hurdle to making President Bush’s tax cuts permanent. Under the current law, some of the tax cuts will expire at the end of this year, while others will last until 2011.
Congress’ complicated budget process is best thought of as an outline for future spending. By passing this year’s budget outline, Congress sets limits on itself for next year’s spending, which, theoretically, will be incorporated into the appropriations bills it passes later this year.
In the Senate, the budget outline has a powerful effect on spending bills. Appropriations bills and amendments that bust the spending caps in the budget require 60-vote majorities for consideration. In the House, the limits are basically theoretical.
The budget outline, which is not a law and does not require the President’s signature, is nonetheless of great importance because it creates the political framework within which bills that cut or increase taxes will be considered.
Through what is called “budget reconciliation,” Congress can create a temporary tax cut or increase–or even mandate a new source of government revenue, such as the lease of drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Such changes last only for the period covered by the budget outline, but they have the key advantage of not being subject to filibuster in the Senate. Under the budget process created in 1974, debate is automatically limited, and just 51 votes are sufficient for passage.
This was the rule used to pass President Bush’s three temporary tax cuts over the past three years by simple majority votes. An attempt by Sen. Robert Byrd (D.-W.Va.) this year to disallow such temporary tax cuts was beaten back in a narrow 47-to-52 vote, opening the door for possible tax cuts this year. Kerry was present and voted in favor of Byrd’s amendment to disallow tax cuts.
Another amendment, sponsored by Sen. Russ Feingold (D.-Wis.), reinstated the so-called PayGo (or “Pay-as-You-Go”) requirement for federal spending–effectively meaning that any permanent tax cuts proposed this year would need 60 votes to clear the Senate. Democrats have successfully filibustered all permanent tax cut bills since Bush entered office in 2001.
The tax-hiking amendment Kerry voted for, sponsored by Sen. Bill Nelson (D.-Fla.), would have raised taxes by $1.8 billion in an unspecified manner. Although the amendment’s description suggested that the money would come from “eliminating abusive tax loopholes,” this is fiction. The amendment actually opens the door to any kind of tax increase. Equally fictitious was a vague suggestion in the same description that the money should go to veterans’ health spending. In fact, it could have been used for any purpose. The amendment did not receive a single Republican vote, and failed 46 to 51.
After the Senate action, the House Budget Committee, led by Chairman Jim Nussle (R.-Iowa), approved a resolution restraining growth in domestic spending from 2005 to 2009, but allowing Bush’s tax cuts to be made permanent. A Democratic attempt to prevent permanency of the tax cuts was defeated on a 24-to-18 party-line committee vote.