Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the ranking GOP member of the Senate Budget Committee, is warning his fellow Republican Senators against voting for the spending deal that House Budget Committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) reached with Senate Budget Committee chairwoman Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA). Specifically, Sessions is warning about a provision contained within the bill that he says would “undermine” the ability of GOP senators to block Democrats like Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) from forcing a tax increase through Congress’ upper chamber.
“As we near a Senate vote on the spending package that emerged from the House, I remain deeply concerned about a provision in the legislation that undermines the right of Senators to enforce spending limits and block tax increases by raising a key point of order,” Sessions said in a statement on Monday. “Careful review of the legislation leaves no doubt as to this fact. Under the deal, the 302(f) Budget Act point of order cannot be raised if the Senate majority produces legislation that breaks spending limits, increases spending, and offsets those increases with higher taxes or fees. This point of order has been used to enforce budgetary rules successfully on numerous occasions since the Budget Control Act was passed in 2011. Its erosion, pushed by Senate Democrats, makes it far easier to tax and spend.”
The provision, which was first reported by the National Review‘s Jonathan Strong, eliminates a complicated Senate procedural matter that Senate Republicans have successfully used for years to block tax increases. Shortly after Strong’s first story, Ryan’s spokesman Will Allison responded for a follow-up article saying Senate Republicans could still filibuster, even though the point of order mechanism was lost. Essentially, Ryan’s office was trying to downplay the significance of this matter–something Sessions said in his Monday statement is a “weak argument.”
“It has been suggested by some that we should not be concerned by the point of order’s loss because bills can still be filibustered,” Sessions said, responding to that counterpoint from Ryan’s office. “This is a weak argument for several reasons. A vote to filibuster legislation is a very different vote than a vote to uphold budget rules and spending limits. Also, in a post-cloture setting, a tax hike could pass with 51 votes where previously this point of order would apply.”
Strong followed up his second piece with a third, getting the former staff director for former Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH), who was once the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, on record confirming the concerns expressed by Sessions and other conservatives on this matter.
Sessions said the point of order technique that Ryan’s deal with Murray would eliminate has been an invaluable tool for Senate Republicans in stopping tax increases.
“The Republican conference has found this point of order very valuable to stop tax-and-spend proposals in the past,” Sessions said in his Monday statement. “Obviously, Senate Democrats have seized the opportunity to eliminate this enforcement tool. While I know Chairman Murray and Chairman Ryan faced a difficult negotiation, this outcome was totally unexpected and a genuine surprise to myself and our experienced committee analysts when we unearthed it after the legislation became public.”
If this bill passes the Senate and is signed into law by the President, Sessions warned that the elimination of the point of order would cause spending to get even more out of control than it already is.
“The principle at issue is important, and it is this: the Budget Control Act limits spending,” Sessions said. “This point of order gives it teeth. The big spenders don’t like that. Thus, using the ‘deficit neutral reserve fund’ process (which is very easy to abuse), statutory spending limits can be breached as long as new taxes or fees (on unpopular entities most likely) are levied to pay for the spending increase. This would be a major loss for controlling spending.”
Sessions also called on members of both parties to block this effort because it is a “further erosion of Senators’ rights” coming right on the heels of Reid invoking the so-called nuclear option to change hundreds of years of Senate rules and precedent in order to force through President Obama’s radical leftist nominees.
“In the aftermath of the nuclear option, this further erosion of Senators’ rights should be opposed by members of both parties,” Sessions said. “This is yet one more reason why it is bad idea to rush through legislation negotiated in secret, outside the normal process, before those voting on it have time to learn what’s in it.”