Spending bill for Treasury, Postal Service and legislative branch fails in Senate
WASHINGTON (CNN) - A spending bill for the Treasury Department, Postal Service and legislative branch went down to an unexpected defeat Wednesday in the Senate, giving chamber Democrats an opportunity to protest a departure from regular legislative procedure and embarrassing the Republican leadership.
The bill -- which combined the regular yearly "Treasury-Postal" and "Legislative Branch" appropriations bills, also included a repeal of the telephone tax, a $4-billion-a-year excise tax levied to pay for the Spanish-American war.
The bill's conference report, agreed to by members of the House and Senate and routinely approved by wide majorities, was defeated on a 28 to 69 vote. Every Senate Democrat voted against the bill.
Democrats voted against the conference bill to protest Majority Leader
Trent Lott's decision to send the spending bills directly from committee to the House-Senate conference, bypassing the Senate floor. The normal process calls for the full House and Senate to pass legislation before differences are worked out in a joint conference committee.
By bypassing the Senate floor, Lott said he was trying to save time and
facilitate passage of the 11 remaining fiscal 2001 spending bills in order to adjourn and send members home to campaign for the November general election.
But Democrats said Lott was determined to deny them any opportunity to offer amendments on their issue agenda.
According to senators and Senate aides, a number of Republicans were
unhappy the legislation did not contain a specific prohibition of any
congressional pay raise. The bill does not contain a specific pay raise for Congress, but does contain cost of living raises for legislative employees and other federal workers.
The Republican protest vote set off a snowball effect. Senate sources said once Democrats realized enough Republicans had voted against the bill to put passage in danger, they voted en masse against the combined spending bills to protest Lott's order of business.
About 16 senators, representing both parties, actually changed their
votes on the Senate floor. The defeat set off a scramble among Senate
Earlier in the day, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota said he intended to vote against the bill in protest, and urged his colleagues to follow his lead -- although the Democratic caucus had not taken a formal position on the strategy.
"I think it's wrong. I think it's really wrong because it destroys the
institution," he told reporters at his morning news conference. Daschle said it set a "dangerous precedent."
Lawmakers say the bill will be brought back to the floor at a later date. President Clinton has said he will veto the bill in its current form because it does not adequately fund the Internal Revenue Service or counterterrorism operations.
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-North Dakota, called the vote "a Senate moment ... completely inexplicable."