Montana’s U. S. lawmakers were sparring Friday after the Senate shot down a budget and debt ceiling proposal passed by the House, with the state’s sole representative calling the Senate action gamesmanship and one senator saying the bill even being proposed was “incredible. ”
The issue was the House bill known as Cut, Cap and Balance, which would have cut spending, set the national spending at a maximum of 18 percent of the gross domestic product, and required Congress to send a balanced budget amendment to the states in return for raising the debt ceiling.
Officials and economists say if the debt ceiling is not raised, allowing the nation to borrow more money, the United States will start to default on payments by Aug. 2, including possibly not being able to pay recipients of programs like Social Security and military benefits.
Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg, who is running against Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., in the 2012 senate election, said the Senate vote killed the only responsible way to bring spending accountability to Washington.
“After today's vote we know what the Senate is against, but we don't know what they are for, except perhaps raising taxes, ” Rehberg said. “There's a new Senate plan every day, most aren't on paper and none have been voted on and passed. ”
Rehberg, a cosponsor, was one of 229 Republicans to vote for the bill when it passed Wednesday. Five Democrats voted for it, and nine Republicans against.
The Senate vote Friday to table the bill was on strict party lines, with 51 Democrats and one independent voting against the bill and 46 Republicans voting for it.
“At a time when leadership is needed, the majority in the Senate is playing political games: attack and spend, attack and spend, ” Rehberg said. “These games aren't doing anything for hard-working Montana taxpayers who just want Washington to get its job done so they can focus on creating jobs and economic recovery. Montanans deserve better. ”
But Tester said otherwise.
“It’s incredible to me that some folks have no problem turning their backs on America’s seniors and veterans, while at the same time preserving tax loopholes that benefit millionaires and Big Oil and Wall Street, ” he said on the floor of the Senate following his vote to table the bill.
Tester said the cap and cuts in the bill would guarantee that some of the very programs supporters said would be protected — such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and veterans health care and the interest the nation pays on its debt — cost more than would be allowed under the bill.
“How is that going to work? ” Tester asked. “It won’t unless you invent your own math. ”
He endorsed the proposal outlined by the bipartisan Gang of Six to make spending cuts and increase revenue by closing tax loopholes.
“Unlike the House’s unpopular, partisan plan to wipe out Medicare while protecting expensive tax loopholes for millionaires and Big Oil, our plan is designed by both parties to actually cut spending and eliminate waste, fraud and abuse, ” Tester said. “Now we need to move to a bipartisan plan that comes out of the middle — not the partisan extremes. ”
After the vote, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said he will continue to look for a compromise solution to setting a budget and raising the debt ceiling.
“I won’t stand by and let us balance the budget on the backs of Montana seniors and working families so we can protect handouts for billionaire oil executives and overseas tax cheats, ” Baucus said in a release. “That’s why, I’ve thrown my support behind a plan that balances the budget responsibly by protecting seniors and prioritizing working families over billionaires.
“Still, we’re in the middle of ongoing negotiations and nothing will be decided until everything is decided, so I’m not hanging my hat on just one plan, ” he added. “I’ll support any compromise that is balanced enough to pass both the House and the Senate and prevent default, so we can keep our promises to our seniors, veterans, troops and working families. ”