Lott pushes budget, appropriations changes
Following last year's protracted budget and appropriations battles that many Republicans considered disastrous to their policy agenda as well as to their electoral prospects, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., Wednesday proposed several Senate rules changes to keep controversial and non-germane legislative riders out of the appropriations bills and the budget resolution.
Lott offered the four resolutions on the Senate floor, which were then referred to relevant committees for consideration. Lott said he expected the committees to report back soon for consideration of the rules changes by the full Senate.
Senate rules long prohibited attaching legislative riders to appropriations bills. But during the 104th Congress, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, tried to amend the Endangered Species Act on an appropriations bill. After the chair ruled Hutchison could not offer the amendment, she won her appeal of the chair's ruling. That vote set a precedent that has since unleashed a wave of legislating on appropriations bills.
Also, Lott frequently complained last year that House Republicans were adding too many controversial legislative riders that made passing routine appropriations bills a political minefield for the more moderate Senate.
Lott offered the first proposal on behalf of Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz. The entire text reads: "Notwithstanding any precedent to the contrary, the prohibition against legislative proposals contained in Rule 16 shall be enforced by the chair." Rule 16 prohibits legislative riders on appropriations bills.
Lott offered the second resolution on behalf of Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and ranking member Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.
It states Senators cannot offer amendments to increase an appropriation item's funding, or create a new item for funding, unless it is to "carry out the provisions of some existing law, treaty stipulation, or act or resolution previously passed by the Senate during that session."
The proposed rule change also requires items added to an appropriations bill to be "germane or relevant to the subject matter contained in the bill." Senators also could raise a point of order against "extraneous" provisions added to an appropriations bill during a House-Senate conference.
Lott, on behalf of Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M., proposed a third resolution to better define "emergency" legislation. Republicans last year accused the Clinton administration of asking for supplemental funding for items that were not true emergencies.
If a point of order is raised against a section of a bill or an amendment, the chair may strike the language. To overturn the ruling of the chair, 60 votes would be required.
During debate over the budget resolution, senators often propose several amendments that have no impact on the budget, resulting in late-night "vote-a-thons" on a range of nongermane issues.
Lott and Domenici proposed that amendments to the budget resolution must be germane to the budget process and must be filed before the 15th hour of the regular 30-hour debate time.
Attaching "Sense of the Senate" language to budget resolutions would not be allowed. Senators could call up no more than two amendments until every other senator had the opportunity to also call up two amendments.
Lott also introduced a resolution to increase funding for the Senate's Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology-Related Problems.
Meanwhile, the House kicked off the 106th Congress with a series of straight party-line votes on the GOP leadership's package of changes to the standing rules of the House.
The votes came on the heels of enthusiastically received speeches by Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., pledging a new era of cooperation in the House.
The Democrats, led by the dean of the House, Rep. John Dingell of Michigan, trained their fire on what they said are the most unfair committee ratios in 40 years as measured against the overall ratio of Republicans to Democrats in the House.
The Democrats' motion to recommit the rules package, which was defeated 218-201, called for the committee ratios to directly reflect the House ratio.
It also would have required all spending and revenue bills to be fully paid for until the Social Security trust fund is certified to be in actuarial balance, and paid for only with federal budget surpluses.
The rules package was adopted without any Democratic votes, by a vote of 217-204.
Then, in a show of bipartisanship, the motion to bring the House gift ban into line with the more lenient Senate rules was adopted by voice vote. As a result, House members and staff may now accept gifts worth less than $50, and worth less than a total of $100 annually from a single source.