Breaking the chain of Congressional failures to pass a budget resolution conference report in an election year, Senate Democrats narrowly won adoption of their fiscal blueprint in 48-45 vote Wednesday morning, but it was not without some procedural gymnastics.
Despite their victory, the vote came a month-and-a-half after the statutory deadline, April 15, and nearly three weeks after the Senate Appropriations Committee is allowed to move forward on its bills without a blueprint.
With Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) absent because of illness, Democrats managed to eke out a small amount of bipartisan comity from their GOP colleagues, getting Sens. John Warner (R-Va.) and Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) to pair their votes with the missing Senators. A vote pairing is a courtesy Senators use to acknowledge that if absent Senators were available their votes would cancel out the votes of others who are present.
Democrats saw the pairing as crucial to their ability to pass the measure given their narrow 51-49 Senate majority. But it appears that the absence of other Senators, such as presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain (Ariz.), might have obviated that need.
Maines Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins voted with all Democrats to support the budget, which does not need to be signed by the president but sets the internal budget framework the Congress uses to advance legislation. Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh was the only Democrat to vote against the resolution because he believes it is fiscally irresponsible.
The Democrats presumptive presidential nominee, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), attended the vote, but his opponent, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), did not.
Since the turn of the century, both Democratic and Republican majorities in Congress have been unable to pass budget resolutions in even-numbered election years. That has largely occurred because budget votes are frequently symbolic and provide tough election year votes given the broad swath of policy issues that are contained in the resolutions.
The budget is primarily useful in setting the top-line discretionary spending limits for House and Senate appropriators.