Freedom First Society

Issue:  H.R. 1314 Through House amendment, H.R. 1314 became the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015. Question: On Motion to Concur in the House Amendment to the Senate Amendment to H.R. 1314.

Result:  Agreed to in Senate, 64 to 35, 1 not voting. Signed by the President 11-2-15. Became Public Law No. 114-74. GOP and Democrats scored.

Freedom First Society: The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 had two major functions: Provide new budget authority for FY 2016 and FY 2017 and remove the limit on the National Debt through March 16, 2017.

This backroom budget deal gave President Obama and the big spenders everything they wanted. It drew the unanimous support of House and Senate Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi. Only a minority of Republicans in both chambers supported it.

We have assigned (good vote) to the Nays and (bad vote) to the Yeas. (P = voted present; ? = not voting; blank = not listed on roll call.)

Bill Summary: The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 had two major functions: Title I — Provide new budget authority for FY 2016 and FY 2017 and Title IX — remove the limit on the National Debt through March 16, 2017.H.R. 1314 also made adjustments to several other programs (e.g., Social Security, Obamacare, Agriculture, and Strategic Petroleum Reserves), some to provide offsets with disputed fiscal impact.

History of H.R. 1314:  It has become common for congressional leaders to use legislative “tricks” to overcome parliamentary obstacles to considering major legislation. These “tricks,” which involve amending legislation already passed in one chamber for a completely different purpose, make it difficult for the casual public to follow what is going on.

H.R. 1314 was passed in April by voice vote as the “Ensuring Tax Exempt Organizations the Right to Appeal Act.” The Senate then amended the Act as the “Trade Act of 2015” and sent it back to the House. Finally, H.R. 1314, through further House Amendment, became the “Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015” and as such was agreed to by the House and Senate and sent to the president.

Freedom First Society Analysis: This backroom budget deal gives President Obama and the big spenders everything they wanted. It drew the unanimous support of Senate Democrats and only a minority (18 to 35) of Republicans.

The “budget deal” raises the budget caps, so that House and Senate appropriators will develop plans for increased spending following the expiration of the Continuing Resolution on December 11.   Some legislators criticized budget gimmicks with “offsets” designed to allow supporters to claim that spending was not being increased.

The “budget deal” also temporarily removes the ceiling for the National Debt again without any effort to reduce the deficit. Proponents and media stories are heralding passage as a great accomplishment to avoid a “disastrous” default on servicing our $18 trillion in debt.

The raise-the-debt ceiling or default scenario presents Americans with false alternatives.   There is another alternative. Either the GOP-controlled House or the GOP-controlled Senate, with sufficient backbone, could use the power of the purse to trim unconstitutional spending and, in short order, turn deficits into surpluses.

The Real Problem

The real problem with federal spending is that there is insufficient will in Congress, driven by an informed electorate, to confine the Federal government to its constitutional role. Representatives and senators from both parties have accepted the unconstitutional usurpations of authority during the past century that have created the federal monster and reduced the authority of the States.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to find any representative or senator who is demanding that the Constitution (i.e., the law regulating government) be enforced. They argue primarily over waste or what we can afford, not over the open-ended claim of federal authority to provide a never-ending array of services, welfare, and oppressive regulation.

A good time to have addressed the looming debt-ceiling problem was during the appropriations process leading up to FY 2016, which began October 1. Even the Continuing Resolution that provided appropriations thru December 11 could have included major cuts in spending.

At those times, Congress would have had good leverage to impose fiscal restraint. However, Congress could have attacked the spending problem at any time since or even included spending cuts within a more limited raise of the debt ceiling to avoid a last minute default.

Some insightful remarks from the Senate debate (Congressional Record):

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama):

Mr. President, the budget passage that will soon be before us essentially does a number of things. One of the more basic is that it spends a lot more money than the current law allows, and it is done in a way that the new Speaker of the House said “stinks” a day or so ago.

Once again a massive deal is crafted behind closed doors and is being rushed through Congress under the threat of panic. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 serves as a reminder that the most important and controversial legislation is still being drafted in secret with little or no input from the Members of this Chamber. We have been cut out of the process. No amendments will be allowed to this massive package, and the cloture vote will be filed immediately after the bill is placed on the floor in order to force a vote, limiting the debate to the shortest possible time under the rules of the Senate. Those who question, object, and want more time, are accused of wanting to shut down the government and disrupt the machinery of the government. They say that President Obama will accuse us of shutting down the government. They say that we should cower under our debt at this great charge he might make against us. As if insisting that we have a right to read and study a bill of this magnitude is out of order….

At its core, this deal with President Obama provides what the President has demanded throughout.

First, it lifts the Federal spending caps for 2 years, including a $40 billion increase in spending on the Federal bureaucracy. A “yes” vote affirms that this spending level–the new high spending level–is correct and that we need to spend this much money.

Second, it erases the current debt limit we have that stops spending or borrowing money above a certain amount. It erases that debt limit until March of 2017, allowing for approximately $1.5 trillion more to be added to our debt of $18.4 trillion, and it could be more than that.

The text states that at that date the debt ceiling shall be raised to whatever level of public debt is at that time. Unlike in the past, when we had a debt ceiling, it was a dollar amount, and we would raise it and approve a certain dollar amount. Suspending this limit is a very unwise process. It was done last time and should not be done in the future–raise it to a date in the future and indicate, in effect, that as much debt as Congress or the President wants to add in that time is approved. We don’t even know the amount. This is a covert and clever way of raising the debt ceiling without having to engage in a real discussion of Washington’s runaway spending problem. It ensures that no further serious conversation about our debt course or any corresponding action to alter it will take place.

Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas):

In my mind, one of the most important issues that we face in this country today is the fiscal condition of our country. The amount of debt that we incur and the amount of debt that we continue to incur is a significant drag on our economy, on job creation, and, in reality, on the American dream.

It is an economic issue. At some point in time, if we don’t get our fiscal house in order, we will pay a significant price. We can either deal with this issue in a gradual, incremental way, in which we set ourselves on a path to right, or we can wait for the crisis to occur, which I have no doubt will happen.

While it is often said that this is an economic issue, and fiscal issues matter to the country, I also would point out that this is not just an economic issue. It is a moral issue. The borrowing of money to pay for services and goods that the government provides the American people is a selfish circumstance in which we take the so-called benefits of government programs today and expect future generations of Americans to pay for those benefits. It is wrong economically for us to continue down the path of fiscal irresponsibility, but it is also morally wrong to expect someone else to pay for the so-called benefits we receive today….

Here is the point I want to make. If we give up the leverage, the opportunity that this issue presents to us as Members of Congress, to force us to do things that we apparently don’t have the will, the courage, the political desire to do, how do we ever get it done? Again, I guess there will be editorialists–certainly across the country and perhaps a few in Kansas–who will say that we need to raise the debt ceiling because it is irresponsible not to. Isn’t it also true that it is irresponsible simply to raise the debt ceiling every time we need it? If we don’t take advantage of the circumstance we are in to force ourselves to do the things that need to be done, we are irresponsible….

Our primary responsibility as American citizens, as an American citizen, not just as a U.S. Senator but all of us as American citizens–we have a responsibility to do two things for the future of our country: protect and preserve the freedoms and liberties guaranteed by our Constitution and make sure the American dream is alive and well so future Americans have the chance to pursue their dreams in this country.

To continue to borrow money to put our country’s fiscal condition in jeopardy once again means we will have failed that responsibility because the spending and borrowing of money inhibits our personal liberties and freedoms and reduces economic opportunity, the American dream for all Americans.

I will vote no. 

Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ):

What we are doing here is getting rid of or extending the budget caps on the budget control agreement, spending about $80 billion more than we would have otherwise.

We have told ourselves that we have offset this spending. Here is my concern. It is clear that we haven’t. Some of the so-called offsets are simple budget gimmicks. 

Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL):

Mr. SHELBY. Mr. President, I rise this afternoon in strong opposition to the 2-year budget agreement before the Senate. This so-called budget deal was negotiated at the last minute. It is now being rushed through Congress with inadequate time for proper scrutiny. While the devil is typically in the details when Congress negotiates these eleventh-hour deals, the flaws in this agreement are evident from merely taking a glance at what is in it.

This budget agreement would increase the current Budget Control Act spending caps, which we enacted in 2011 in an effort to restrain Washington spending, by approximately $80 billion or more over the next 2 years. On top of raising the caps by $80 billion or more, this deal also adds $32 billion in additional spending totals. That is $112 billion in new spending over the next 2 years–yes, $112 billion in new spending over the next 2 years.

Not only would this agreement allow for increased spending, it would also raise the debt ceiling through March of 2017–yes, through March of 2017–where we can borrow more money, adding an estimated $1.5 trillion of borrowing.

President Obama has continually called for more government spending and a blank check, to raise our Nation’s debt limit with no corresponding reforms or spending cuts. The deal before us today represents a victory for President Obama and his liberal allies, not for the American people. As long as Washington continues to spend far beyond its means and remain on the same unsustainable track, our economy will suffer.

While I believe we should safeguard the full faith and credit of the United States, I also believe we should do so in a manner that puts our Nation on a more responsible fiscal path. We cannot–I repeat, we cannot continue to raise the debt limit without taking responsible steps to tackle the underlying problems facing our Nation: wasteful government spending.

Taking on more debt to facilitate more government spending is not the answer and is simply unacceptable.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX):

Mr. CRUZ. Mr. President, for many months I have been speaking about what I call the Washington cartel. The Washington cartel consists of career politicians in both parties who get in bed with lobbyists and special interests in Washington and grow and grow and grow government. I believe the Washington cartel is the source of the volcanic frustration Americans face across this country, and it is difficult to find a better illustration of the Washington cartel than the charade we are engaged in this evening. This deal we are here to vote on is both shockingly bad on the merits and it is also a manifestation of the bipartisan corruption that suffuses Washington, DC.

What are the terms of this budget deal? Well, in short, what the House of Representatives has passed, and what the Senate is expected to pass shortly, is a bill that adds $85 billion in spending increases–$85 billion to our national debt, $85 billion to your children and my children that they are somehow expected to pay. I don’t know about your kids, but my girls don’t have $85 billion lying around in their rooms….

Not only is this bill spending us deeper and deeper into a hole, it is chock-full of gimmicks. These are gimmicks that everyone writing them knew were there.

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