Notable Amendments to the Senate-Passed Budget

As the Senate worked on its FY 2014 budget resolution, which passed by a 50-49 vote late last week, hundreds of amendments were filed in a process commonly referred to as “vote-a-rama.” Most of the amendments that actually received a vote were largely symbolic, establishing non-binding “deficit-neutral reserve funds” to make it procedurally easier for Congress to make changes in the future. However, several of them were very interesting from a deficit reduction perspective, and could show a few hints about what budget measures or ideas might resurface in the coming months. The amendments covered a range of issues, many of which we’ve discussed on our blog before. Below are a few highlights:

  • Isakson amendment (#138) to establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund related to establishing a biennial budget and appropriations process. Agreed to 68 – 31. We’ve discussed the importance of reforming the budget process in the past, and Senator Isakson’s amendment (similar to his bill on biennial budgeting) provides an opportunity for it to be discussed again.
  • Portman amendment (#154) to require the Congressional Budget Office to include macroeconomic feedback scoring of tax legislation. Agreed to 51 – 48. This amendment allows for dynamic scoring of legislation (see our report on the subject here), having CBO show revenue and spending impacts of economic growth when scoring a deficit reduction package as a supplement to their official score.
  • Sanders amendment (#198) to establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund to protect the benefits of disabled veterans and their survivors, which may not include a swtich to the chained CPI. Agreed to by Voice Vote. However, in addition to not having a binding impact, it only applied to legislation that would move through the Veterans Affairs committee, which is a small portion of what would be affected. Importantly, some members, such as Senator Richard Burr, supported this amendment but expressed their support for the chained CPI more broadly. 
  • R. Johnson amendment (#213) to create a point of order against budget resolutions that do not assume the 75-year solvency of Social Security and Medicare. Not agreed to 46 – 53.
  • Paul amendment (#263) in the nature of a substitute budget. Not agreed to 18 – 81. In this amendment, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) proposed his own budget alternative which he calls “A Clear Vision to Revitalize America.” His proposal is more aggressive than the House Republican budget and would bring debt down to 46.6 percent of GDP by 2023. We have updated our comparison graphs of the different budget proposals to include his plan.
  • Hatch amendment (#297) to repeal the medical device tax enacted in the Affordable Care Act. If legislation was enacted akin to this amendment, it would be deficit-increasing unless offset with other savings. Agreed to 79 – 20.
  • Crapo amendment (#318) to include instructions to the Senate Finance Committee to achieve the Budget’s stated goal of $275 billion in mandatory health care savings. Not agreed to 47 – 52.
  • Levin amendment (#430) to provide for a deficit-reduction reserve fund to provide for legislation to eliminate offshore tax shelters used by large corporations. Agreed by Unanimous Consent.
  • Stabenow amendment (#432) to establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund to reject the House-passed budget plan to reform Medicare into a premium support program. Agreed to 96 – 3.
  • Enzi amendment (#489) to establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund to phase-in any changes to the individual or corporate tax systems. Agreed to by Unanimous Consent. We’ve discussed many times before on our blog the importance of phased-in reforms as the fragile economy continues to recover.
  • Johanns amendment (#624) to establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund repealing the $2,500 federal cap on flexible spending accounts (FSAs) and the requirement that individuals obtain a prescription from a physician before purchasing over-the-counter drugs with their own flexible spending account or health savings account dollars. Agreed to by Voice Vote. Again, this would be deficit-increasing if considered in future legislation without offsets.

Out of the hundreds of amendments that were filed but did not come to the floor for a vote, two of them recommended approaches taken by the Fiscal Commission. An amendment by Senator Heller would have expressed the sense of the Senate that the Fiscal Commission proposal should be considered by the Senate. Similarly, another amendment by Senator Coburn would have proposed health savings of $630 billion, the level which was proposed in the Simpson-Bowles plan. Several other amendments would also have addressed various components of tax reform. For example, Senator Thune offered amendments on the charitable deduction and estate tax.

At this point, the Senate and House budget resolutions have significant differences which have yet to be worked out.  Lawmakers will likely revisit the FY 2014 budget when the President releases his budget proposal in a few weeks.  Until then, these amendments voted on during the Senate budget vote-a-rama foreshadow some of the debates likely to be had in the broader context of a comprehensive debt deal.