Thanks to two defectors—Sen. Susan Collins (ME) and Sen. Richard Burr (NC)—, the “Republican” Senate on Wednesday (20 June) in a 48-50 vote failed to discharge from committee a measure clawing back approximately $14.7 billion of the $1.3 trillion appropriated in the omnibus last March; the House passed the clawback 210-206 two weeks ago (7 June), and the Senate had until Friday to act. The measure had been transmitted to Congress by the Trump Administration in early May, and slightly modified in early June.
There was real hope of passing the rescissions package, which represented only about ½ of 1% of annual federal spending, since the rules in place require only a simple majority; because of bad apples in their own ranks, however, Senate Republicans often don’t have a working majority even on the few questions which can be decided there by a simple majority, and that proved to be true in this case.
The actual size of the package was even smaller than it appeared, since most of the clawed back funds were of “budget authority” (appropriated funds which had gone unspent); indeed, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the measure would reduce actual outlays by just $57 million in the current fiscal year, by just $368 million in the coming fiscal year, and by just $1.105 billion over the next decade; even the more generous estimate of the Office of Management and Budget saw it saving just $3 billion over ten years. In a sense, however, the relative insignificance of the cuts in the package makes the fecklessness of the Republicans look even worse on closer inspection than it does at first glance: it means that these jokers can’t even muster a majority in favor of largely phantom spending cuts.
One can only hope that more Republicans will be elected to the Senate in the fall, unless the GOP challengers are of the ilk of Burr or Collins, in which case it doesn’t really matter whether the seats in question go red or blue. Nor will we be rid of Burr or Collins any time soon. Although the former did announce that he would not run again when running for re-election in 2016, there are, unfortunately, 4½ years still left in his current term; the latter will finish her fourth term in 2020, so the opportunity for Republicans there to find someone better comes a little sooner.
The Senate GOP seems to be under the impression that passing the tax cut in December 2017 was good enough, and that they can coast through this year without doing much of anything at all; it is true that only 9 of the 35 seats up for election are currently held by them, but they should perhaps give a passing thought to the chances of those seeking seats not currently held by them. It would have been a very modest accomplishment, in terms of size, if the rescissions package had been approved, but it was the first rescissions package proposed by a President since the year 2000, and its passage would have given supporters of the President, not all of whom are Republicans, a reason to turn out and vote for Republicans in the fall. Maybe Republican challengers can still win the votes of Trump supporters, and still motivate the base of the party to turn out, but they will have to do so by stressing how different they are from the Republicans who are in there now. And maybe some good will yet come from the failure, if it reminds Republican voters that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and that they need to start nominating better people, and sometimes to nominate challengers rather than incumbents, if they are serious about draining the swamp.