This vote was on whether to waive a procedural objection raised against an amendment offered by John McCain, R-Ariz. The amendment was to a bill that is intended to help stimulate the flagging U.S. economy with a $900 billion cash infusion.
Dissatisfied with the Democrats' underlying stimulus bill, Republicans offered several amendments that lowered the total amount of money proposed to be spent overall and relied more on large blocs of tax breaks. This was one of those amendments.
The amendment would have allocated much less spending and instead bolstered the amount of tax breaks in the underlying bill: $421 billion in tax cuts and additional spending, including income tax reductions and corporate tax breaks. It also contained $45 billion for transportation-related infrastructure investments.
"The stimulus package would be a disaster for our children and our grandchildren. It has fundamental policy changes, and it is the biggest spending bill probably in the history of this country," McCain said. "We have legislation which creates jobs, which cuts taxes and spends on infrastructure, more on Defense and the reset, and I believe that is the best for this country. Madam President, we all know we have to stimulate this economy and create jobs. The question is how you do it: profligacy versus, I believe, a mature and responsible approach to reversing and saving our economy," McCain said.
Max Baucus, D-Mont., raised what is known as a "point of order" against the amendment. A "point of order" is a procedural motion senators may bring up when they feel a bill, amendment or other motion violates certain rules set out by Congress to govern itself. Unless senators vote to waive those rules – which usually takes 60 votes, a large margin in the Senate -- the bill, amendment or motion in question can be killed by the point of order. Baucus' point of order charged that McCain's amendment violated the rule that requires all budget-related legislation to be considered by the Senate Budget Committee, which it was not. McCain then made a motion that the rule be waived in this case, which is what this vote was on.
Baucus admitted that no one knows "exactly the precise prescription" to get the economy functioning again.
"But this underlying bill is certainly the best efforts of some of the brightest people to try to find that solution. Economists all say—all say—we need to do something like this to get us going," Baucus said. "The underlying bill is much better than the alternative. The alternative is basically: Don’t do it. If we do not do it, gosh, the jobs lost—what you see now, as bad as it is, is just going to pale in comparison to what otherwise is going to happen. So I urge us to stick with the underlying bill, not adopt a substitute which has not been thought through, not aired, but, rather, let’s stick with the program we think is going to work."
By a vote of 40-57, the motion to waive the rules was defeated. Every Republican present voted for the motion, while every Democrat present voted against it. The end result is that the motion to waive the rules to allow McCain's amendment to go forward was defeated, and the procedural point of order against the amendment was sustained, thus killing an amendment that would have drastically cut spending in an economic stimulus bill and replace much of what was left with tax cuts.