Thursday, March 26, 2015

Senate Budget Resolution Amendment Votes Provide Opportunities for Issue-Testing

A wide ranging and lengthy series of votes on non-binding amendments to the Budget Resolution being debated on the Senate floor this week is providing issue-backers and opponents opportunities to see where Senators stand on a variety of matters. Several of the issues in amendments being offered are relevant to water and agricultural resources in the Mississippi River Basin and elsewhere. For example, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) offered an amendment limiting EPA's ability to adopt "an expanded and broad regulatory definition of ‘Waters of the United States,’" which was approved on a 59-40 vote (Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), already on record opposing the rule, did not vote).  In the Mississippi River Basin, Democratic Senators McCaskill (MO), Manchin (WV), Heitkamp (ND) and Klobuchar (MN) joined Republicans in voting for the Barrasso amendment. Klobuchar voted against a similar Barrasso amendment in 2013.

Ninety-nine senators voted to approve an amendment from Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) establishing what amounts to a budgetary placeholder for "keeping the Federal Water Pollution Control Act focused on protection of water quality." And Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) has sponsored several amendments critical of USDA's crop insurance program (not voted on yet).

The Senate's amendment roulette is set to proceed into the early hours of Friday morning, after which the chamber is expected to pass its budget resolution, before recessing for two weeks (here is the current list of pending amendments).

In the meantime House Republicans yesterday narrowly passed their Budget Resolution; one that would arguably balance the budget in nine years while increasing overseas' war spending, cutting domestic programs and beginning the process of privatizing Medicare.

Assuming the Senate passes its budget, GOP negotiators will attempt to reconcile the two similar plans with the goal of presenting a unified Republican budget to both chambers for approval sometime in mid-April.  The final Budget Resolution, if passed, is not signed by the President, but provides top-line funding limits within which the House and Senate appropriation committees are to work as they draft their fiscal year 2016 spending bills.

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