This vote was on whether to allow to go forward a bill that would give states $16.1 billion in extended Medicaid assistance and $10 billion for education funding, primarily to help states stave off teacher layoffs. This spending would be paid for by spending cuts in other areas and new forms of revenue – for instance, the $10 billion for education funding would primarily come from curtailing the tax shelters some multinational corporations take advantage of by having a shell office somewhere overseas.
Democrats argued that the bill is necessary to help states facing budget deficits keep from shutting off important services. Republicans cast the bill as an election-year present to teachers unions.
Judd Gregg, R-N.H., tried to defeat the bill with a parliamentary maneuver, saying the measure violated the Senate’s budgetary rules. Patty Murray, D-Wash., then made a motion that the rules be waived in this case, which is what this vote was on.
Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the bill should be defeated because it would increase the deficit too much. He also said his staff’s research has shown that the single biggest source of revenue for states is to “borrow money that is coming down from Washington.”
“They are getting more from us than their sales taxes, their income taxes, and their property taxes. The States are simply becoming completely dependent upon us,” McConnell said. “As I have heard both of my colleagues point out, we are sending this borrowed money down essentially so they do not have to make the tough decisions they would otherwise have to make. So I would ask my friends: When does it end? When does this dependency come to an end? I thought last year it was supposed to be timely, temporary, and targeted.”
Murray said that voting in favor of this bill is one way Republicans could show that they care about real people. She also said the measure is “a fiscally responsible way to make sure our States’ schoolchildren and the hard-working teachers who get up every day to improve their lives are not the victims of struggling State budgets.”
“It is a very targeted and responsible way to help make sure that as our kids head back to school, our teachers are not entering the ranks of the unemployed. It is also a way to make sure we are not paying a lot more in the long run for adults who have been failed by school systems with too few teachers and too many cuts to services,” Murray said. “It is August. Our kids are about to go back to school. We cannot afford for them to go back to huge class sizes where they cannot learn, with fewer subjects being taught, and we certainly cannot afford to wait to address this very immediate problem.”
By a vote of 61-38, the Senate voted to waive the rules and allow the bill to go forward. Every Democrat present voted to waive the rules. All but two Republicans present voted against waiving the rules. The end result is that the rules were waived and the parliamentary maneuver was defeated. This allowed the Senate to move toward a vote on final passage of a bill that would provide billions of dollars to states for Medicaid and education.