This vote was on an amendment that would have required federal agencies to cut or consolidate programs that duplicate services offered elsewhere by the government. It also would have reduced funding for federal agencies.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) offered the amendment as a way to cut the federal deficit by reducing spending on programs like transportation, education, and science. Coburn cited two recent reports by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), a branch of the government that serves as a watchdog. The reports outlined a number of federal programs that produce duplicative services. Coburn’s amendment would have required the Obama Administration to identify these unnecessary programs, take action to eliminate them, and then cut federal spending by at least $10 billion. Coburn argued that this approach would be a smart, commonsense way to attack the federal deficit.
“We have 209 different programs spending $4 billion through eight different agencies to encourage science, technology, engineering, and math education in the United States. Can anybody in this body defend the fact that we have 209 different programs? No. Nobody will even stand and defend it,” Sen. Coburn said. “Why wouldn’t we streamline it?”
Opponents of Sen. Coburn’s amendment called it a “backdoor attempt” to cut spending beyond the amount Congress and the White House agreed to in a deficit-reduction deal 6 months earlier. Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI) pointed out that the Obama Administration had already taken action to address the duplicate programs identified by the GAO, and argued that Congress would be weakening checks and balances by giving the executive branch the power to eliminate programs that Congress initiated and should oversee.
“Let's be clear: The objective here is not better government. It is cutting discretionary funding to programs that Congress supports, hiding under the guise of good government,” Sen. Inouye said.
Even though 52 senators voted for Sen. Coburn’s amendment and only 46 voted against, it was defeated because it was brought up under Senate rules that require 60 votes for passage. Voting “yea” were 45 Republicans and 7 Democrats. Voting “nay” were 46 Democrats, including a majority of progressives. As a result, the Senate killed Sen. Coburn’s amendment to require the Obama Administration to eliminate duplicate programs and cut federal spending.