Standout Amendments in Sen. Sanders’ $3.5 Trillion Budget
Standout Amendments in Sen. Sanders’ $3.5 Trillion Budget

By Joseph Lord

As the Republicans and Democrats worked together to pass the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Tuesday morning, another proposal in the Senate has been far more contentious: Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) $3.5 trillion budget resolution. The infrastructure bill and the budget resolution make up what Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called President Joe Biden’s “two-track strategy.” While the infrastructure bill satisfied legislators on both sides of the political aisle, Republicans and even some moderate Democrats have expressed opposition to or hesitance about supporting the budget’s $3.5 trillion price tag. The resolution only advanced in the Senate Wednesday in a 50–49 vote after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) reluctantly agreed to vote with the party.

The Senate has been considering and amending the resolution since February of this year. During the course of that time, many amendments to the budget were proposed by both sides; many of those were shot down on a party-line vote. Here are some of the amendments—some that the Senate rejected, and some that it accepted—that stand out the most.

Collins Joins Senate Democrats to Reject Freedom of Religion Amendment

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) pressed for the budget to include a spending-neutral reserve fund (i.e., it would not affect government spending) to prohibit “infringement on the free exercise of religion.” This amendment also failed in a 50–50 vote. The vote was not strictly party line, as Sen. Collins (R-Maine) defected and joined with Democrats to reject the proposal; Manchin joined Republicans in supporting the amendment.

Sen. Paul Counters with Budget-Surplus Plan

In the first proposed amendment to the bill, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) provided a far-reaching substitution for Sanders’ budget. Under Paul’s plan, legislation would have been focused entirely on reducing the federal deficit, with Paul even estimating budget surpluses for FY 2021–25. Paul’s estimations for surplus values during this period under his budget were:

  • Fiscal year 2021: $1.687 trillion
  • Fiscal year 2022: $1.115 trillion
  • Fiscal year 2023: $823 billion
  • Fiscal year 2024: $587 billion
  • Fiscal year 2025: $332 billion

Beyond this, it stipulated that aggregate federal revenues should not change at all between FY 2021 and FY 2031, meaning that there would be no change in taxes. To achieve the results of reducing the deficit and national debt, Paul’s budget instead focused on cutting spending.

In this plan as well, the national debt would only increase by about $8 trillion over the next ten years, sitting around $36 trillion in 2031. This is approximately $10 trillion less than the estimates in Sanders’ budget, which predict that the national debt would balloon to $45 trillion in the same period.

The amendment was overwhelmingly rejected 29–71 by a bipartisan coalition of Senators.

Sen. Rick Scott’s Advances Border Security Amendment

In another party-line vote, Sen. Rick Scott’s (R-Fla.) amendment to provide for the funding of border security and to “ensure the enforcement of all immigration laws” was rejected. Again, every Democrat voted against the Republican senator’s proposal.

Collins Joins Democrats to Defend Small Business Assistance to Rioters

A proposed amendment by Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) would have prohibited “any individual convicted of a misdemeanor or felony for actions during or in connection with a riot or civil disorder” from receiving financial aid from the Small Business Administration. Collins crossed to the other side of the aisle again, leading the amendment to fail 49–51.

Permission for State, Local Official to Help Enforce Federal Law Revoked

Sen. Pat Toomey’s (R-Pa.) amendment would have ensured that “State and local law enforcement are permitted to cooperate with Federal officials to enforce Federal law.” The amendment was rejected along party lines 50–50.

Sen. Johnson Fails to Preserve Border Wall Contracts

This amendment to the budget was also proposed by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) for the infrastructure bill. It would have forbidden the federal government from canceling border wall contracts signed by the Trump administration. To further cement these contracts in place, it forbade the federal government from using federal funds to pay the penalty for canceling these contracts.

Johnson explained on the Senate floor: “We contracted 700 miles of border fencing and walls, completed 450, and, as of today, 250 miles are contracted but not built. Unfortunately, the Biden administration is now reversing all of these policies.”

If the amendment were approved, it would have essentially left the Biden administration locked into Trump-era agreements. The amendment was revoked by every Democrat senator and supported by every Republican senator, and failed in another 50–50 tie.

Sen. Paul: ‘Build Roads at Home, not Around the World’

In a far less formally articulated proposal, Paul put forward an amendment “to build roads at home instead of building them around the world.”

Paul gave a short explanation on the Senate floor: “Probably nothing makes Americans madder than to see their hard-earned tax dollars sent overseas to boondoggle after boondoggle—countries that laugh at us, burn our flag, take our money, and then ask for more. Meanwhile, our roads and bridges are crumbling in our country. We can’t fix our own infrastructure because we keep building roads and bridges in other countries. My amendment would take the $26 billion we send in foreign aid welfare and keep it here and put it into our infrastructure in our country.”

The amendment failed dramatically, receiving only 8 votes in favor and 92 against. Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Bill Haggerty (R-Tenn.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), and Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) joined Paul in supporting the measure.

Measure to Force Schools to Reopen Fails

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) put forward an amendment that would have forced schools to reopen for in-person learning in order to receive emergency federal aid. The amendment stipulated that this prohibition would go into effect once a school’s teachers were vaccinated against the CCP virus.

Blunt explained the necessity of this measure, saying on the Senate floor that “the evidence is clear, school closures are hurting students, prolonged remote learning puts kids where they are at high risk of falling behind, of failing classes, and of having mental health problems.”

The amendment again failed to gain a majority as the Senate evenly split in a 50–50 vote.

Economic Impact Payments Passed Almost Unanimously

Manchin proposed an amendment to fund targeted economic impact payments to those affected by the CCP virus. In addition, Manchin’s amendment ensured that these would not be abused by including provisions barring the wealthy from receiving the financial aid.

The amendment was almost unanimously passed 99–1. Paul alone voted “nay” on the measure.

Funding for CCP Virus Vaccine Awareness Campaign

An amendment proposed by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) established funding for “COVID-19 vaccine administration and a public awareness campaign.” The Senate unanimously agreed to the measure in a recorded vote.

Senate Votes to Fund the Police

In the wake of nearly a year of “defund the police” campaigns by some progressive elements, the Senate considered a proposed amendment by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) to “establish a deficit-neutral fund relating to funding the police.” Senate Democrats joined with Republicans to support the measure unanimously, distancing themselves from the anti-police sentiment that polling shows is becoming increasingly unpopular.

Senate Rejects Direct Economic Assistance to Illegal Immigrants

An amendment put forward by Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) forbade legislation that would provide Economic Impact Payments or similar “direct, tax-based temporary financial assistance.” Young said to the Senate in support of his amendment: “[the amendment would] ensure that any new round of economic impact payments does not go to those in this country illegally. It would establish a dangerous precedent if the Federal Government were to give a direct cash payment to those who have jumped the line and subverted our Nation’s immigration system to enter the United
States.”

The measure easily passed 58–42 after eight Democrats—Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), and Jon Tester (D-Mont.)—joined with Republicans in support of the amendment.

Proposal to Ban a Federal Carbon Tax

Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) proposed an amendment to prohibit establishing a federal carbon tax and to prevent “American job losses and regressive household utility bill, home heating, and gasoline price increases.” The amendment was revoked in a 50–50 split with every Republican voting for the measure and every Democrat voting against.

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