WASHINGTON – The Senate in two votes last week approved a two-year budget deal that will suspend the national debt limit and possibly raise interest payments to more than $400 million a year.
One of those votes was to pass the budget; the other was to kill an amendment to prohibit increasing the national debt.
Both of Alabama’s senators — Richard Shelby, R, and Doug Jones, D — voted for the budget and against the amendment.
The budget deal (HR 3877) was approved Aug. 1 on a vote of 67 for and 28 against. The budget would allow Pentagon and non-military spending to increase by $320 billion over current levels while suspending the statutory borrowing limit until July 31, 2021, to prevent default on the $22 trillion national debt.
The bill addresses the nearly 30 percent of the $4.6 trillion federal budget composed of discretionary spending, leaving untouched the approximately 70 percent allocated to mandatory programs including Medicare, Social Security and veterans benefits and ruling out tax increases as a means of curbing federal debt. The bill caps discretionary spending at $1.375 trillion for each of fiscal 2020 and 2021 while anticipating annual deficits approaching $1 trillion and interest payments on the national debt likely to top $400 billion annually.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the agreement “is the right deal for our national defense. It is the right deal because it ensures the United States maintains its full faith and credit. It is the right deal because it brings predictability and stability through 2020 and moves toward restoring regular appropriations.”
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the bill provides “additional resources for the states to combat the opioid epidemic; support for VA hospitals caring for our veterans; cancer research and other critical medical research; climate and clean energy technology; reducing the burden of college debt; infrastructure and transportation improvements.”
Opponent Rand Paul, R-Ky., said the national debt “now stands at $22 trillion. This year, we will add over $1.2 trillion. We are approaching record deficits, and neither party cares.” He added, “Interest on this debt will be over $400 billion next year, precisely, $455 billion. Interest will surpass all welfare spending in the next two years. Interest on the debt will surpass defense spending by 2025.”
Also on Aug. 1, the Senate voted 23 for and 70 against to defeat an amendment to HR 3877 (above) that would have blocked any increase in the statutory debt limit until after Congress had imposed fiscal discipline in three areas – the Senate and House would have to enact major spending cuts, restore spending caps that the underlying bill removes and send the states a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget.
Paul, who sponsored the amendment, said, “Shame on the politicians who have campaigned as conservatives but who have governed as big spenders.”
None of the 70 senators who voted against the proposal spoke against it.
OTHER SENATE VOTES
The House was in recess in the legislative week ending Aug. 2 Here’s how area senators voted on other major issues last week.
Upholding Trump Veto of Saudi Arms Measure:
Voting 45 for and 40 against, the Senate on July 29 decided not to override President Trump’s veto of a measure (SJ Res 36) that would prohibit the sale of up to $8 billion in U.S. arms to Saudi Arabia and its allies for use against Iranian-backed forces in Yemen. The munitions consist mainly of tens of thousands of laser-guided “smart” bombs.
Critics needed a two-thirds majority of senators present and voting to defeat the veto.
This marked Trump’s second successful veto this year of attempts by Congress to check the administration’s expanding military alliance with Saudi Arabia. With the other veto, he turned back a measure that would have ended U.S. involvement in the Yemen war unless it received congressional authorization under the 1973 War Powers Resolution.
Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said “This administration’s willingness to turn a blind eye to (Saudi Arabia’s) wholesale slaughter of civilians and the murder of journalists and move forward with the sale of these weapons will have a lasting implication for America’s moral leadership on the world stage.”
Jim Risch, R-Idaho, said the arms deal serves “the legitimate security interests of our partners. Rejecting these sales at this time will reward recent Iranian aggression and risk Iranian miscalculation, which will lead to disaster if Iran continues down its current path.”
A yes vote was to override the presidential veto.
Voting yes: Jones
Voting no: Shelby
Confirming Kelly Craft as United Nations Ambassador:
Voting 56 for and 34 against, the Senate on July 31 confirmed Kelly Craft as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Craft has been U.S. ambassador to Canada since October 2017 and was an alternate delegate to the United Nations in the George W. Bush administration. She received her appointment to Ottawa after her husband, Joe Craft, a Kentucky-based coal producer, contributed more than $1 million to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Republicans praised Craft’s work in Canada on matters including a trade deal to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement. But Democrats faulted her for having spent 357 days away from Canada while ambassador and for allowing her husband to take part in meetings on energy and environmental policies. They also criticized Craft for doubting the science validating global warming and climate-change.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Craft has a record of “skillfully and effectively advocating for the interests of the United States on the international stage,” including helping to fashion a U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement now awaiting congressional approval.
Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said: “Taken together, Ambassador Craft’s lack of experience, her dereliction of duty and excessive absences in Ottawa, and her unwillingness to address potential conflicts of interest, render her unfit to serve as our ambassador to the United Nations.”
A yes vote was to confirm the nominee.
Voting yes: Shelby
Voting no: Jones
KEY VOTES AHEAD
The House and Senate are in recess until the week of Sept. 9.