The first 50-50 tie occurred over a relatively mundane budget amendment offered by Iowa Republican Charles Grassley. Shortly after the tie was announced, Cheney arrived on the Senate floor to execute his constitutional duties for the first time in this administration. Cheney cast the deciding vote for the amendment and departed.
Minutes later the same thing happened, but with a different final outcome. When voting on an amendment offered by Montana Democrat Max Baucus to double the size of President Bush's proposed Medicare prescription drug benefit, the Senate again found itself tied.
But no call went out to Cheney, because the Senate rules require an amendment to receive enough votes to pass. So, in essence, a tie defeated the measure without the help of the vice president. Republicans, who mostly opposed the measure, decided no such call was required.
The drama concluded a day of debate and rhetoric on the budget proposal before the Senate that offers a $1.6 trillion tax cut over the next decade. While passage of a budget resolution itself is less critical than the passage of the tax cut, it does set guidelines for the size of the entire government operation.
In the words of one longtime observer: "The budget puts a limit on the overall size of spending. Like a balloon, it can be stretched, but only to a certain point."
Having seen the Republican leaders of the House ram the tax cut through Democratic opposition – and with hardly any debate and no committee hearings – Senate Democrats have vowed to set up a roadblock if the president does not negotiate with them. While House rules make the minority virtually helpless to fight legislation, individual senators wield far more power. Even a few can gum up the legislative process to a degree that might embarrass the fledgling administration.
With the Senate evenly divided and Republican liberals such as Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Jim Jeffords of Vermont, and the Maine duo of Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins questioning how prudent the $1.6 trillion number is, Bush and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott find themselves handling the situation with more nuance than usual.
So far, Georgia's Zell Miller is the only Democrat willing to defect on the budget. (He voted with the Republicans Tuesday, while Chafee voted with the Democrats.) Many consider Nebraska's Ben Nelson, New Jersey's Bob Torricelli and Louisiana's John Breaux among the most likely Democrats to join Miller and the Republicans on the tax cut.
Adding to Lott's problems is Arizona Republican maverick John McCain, who, flush with his recent success in defying his party over campaign finance, told United Press International Tuesday that he would vote for the budget only to show deference to the president. He wants further examination of how the cut would be allocated, as he fears it favors "the rich" – aka those who pay the most taxes – and an increase in military spending before promising solid support.
Copyright 2001 by United Press International. All rights reserved.
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