March Madness: A Vote-a-rama Postgame Report on Finance

Nearly 16 hours after it began, the Senate ritual known as vote-a-rama ended with passage of a budget resolution by a vote of 52-46.

The marathon voting session serves in practice as a political messaging platform – senators have the chance to introduce an amendment on any issue germane to the budget, forcing their colleagues to vote on issues that normally might never make it to the Senate floor – and a proving ground for issues that might reappear as bills.

Senators from both parties filed finance-related amendments that tackled tax issues, dynamic scoring and financial regulation.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) pushed back against a provision in the budget resolution that would subject the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to annual congressional appropriations by offering an amendment emphasizing the importance of preserving the agency’s autonomy. The measure was defeated 46-54.

Democrats also used the evening to target corporations that keep profits abroad. Sens. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) and Dick Durbin (Ill.) each offered an amendment that would both provide tax benefits to firms bringing overseas jobs back to the U.S. and eliminate tax loopholes relating to corporate inversions. Both amendments were voted down 46-54.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, had a different plan for keeping U.S. jobs from moving abroad. He offered an amendment, agreed to by voice vote, that would reduce the corporate income tax rate.

Two other tax proposals were adopted as well. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) offered an amendment that would repeal the estate tax – it passed with 54 votes.

Earlier this week the House Ways and Means Committee approved an estate tax repeal measure, H.R. 1105, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas). The panel approved the bill on a party-line vote, 22-10.

Back in the Senate, Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) offered an amendment  that would provide tax relief to small businesses by increasing the section 179 deduction allowance to $1 million from its current $25,000 level. It was adopted by voice vote.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) put forward an amendment that builds on a proposal Republicans have been talking about since they took control of Congress in January. The amendment would require dynamic scoring estimates, which take into consideration the macroeconomic effects of a proposed bill, for any major pieces of legislation scored by the Congressional Budget Office. It was adopted 59-41.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), the ranking member on the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, offered an amendment condemning “too big to fail” bailouts for banks with more than $500 billion in assets, a largely symbolic measure that echoed a proposal that Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) offered in 2013. Brown’s amendment passed by voice vote; Vitter’s was adopted two years ago on 99-0 vote.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) submitted an amendment to eliminate existing tax deductions for corporate compensations exceeding $1 million. It was defeated 44-54.

Some filed amendments never came up for a vote. One submitted by Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) that would repeal the 3.8 percent net investment tax for those making more than $250,000 a year did not reach the Senate floor, much like another Coats proposal that would create bipartisan commissions to run financial regulatory agencies like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat, submitted a proposal stating that Congress should expedite its consideration of raising the debt limit. While that amendment never received a vote, one by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) that would prohibit a debt limit increase from being included in the budget reconciliation process was adopted 54-44.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the U.S. will reach its statutory debt limit sometime in October or November.

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