WASHINGTON – When it came time to introduce his latest amendment to the President’s proposed budget, Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., and his Senate colleagues couldn’t resist cracking a few jokes.
Gregg introduced an amendment on the Senate floor yesterday that would have required 60 votes, a “supermajority,” to pass any budget that would rack up as much or more debt in the next 10 years than has already accumulated between 1789 — the birth of the federal government — and Jan. 20, 2009 — the birth of the Barack Obama presidency.
Gregg’s office said the publicly held federal debt amassed from 1789 to Jan. 20, 2009 was $6.3 trillion.
Gregg’s amendment did not pass, with 43 senators voting for it and 54 voting against it.
In Gregg’s very brief, very animated floor speech on what he dubbed the 1789 amendment, he threw his arms open wide as he listed all the Presidents who, combined, had not spent as much as Gregg said the fiscal year 2010 budget would spend.
“George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Pierce,” Gregg said enthusiastically.
“Pierce?” a senator called out from behind Gregg.
“Just to remind a few of you folks,” Gregg responded, barely able to suppress a laugh, before a senator interrupted with, “He was President?”
The President in question, Franklin Pierce, served from 1853 to 1857 and, like Gregg, was the son of a New Hampshire governor and served in the U.S. Senate.
After the moment of levity, Gregg went on to explain, “If there is a budget that brings forward more debt than that in one five-year period, as regrettably President Obama’s budget does, doubles the debt in five years and triples it in 10 years, then there will be a point of order against that budget. So it will take 60 votes in this body to pass that budget rather than 51.”
Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., chair of the Budget Committee, where Gregg is the top Republican, called Gregg’s amendment the “most curious offered yet.” “One has to wonder where the gentleman was when they were doubling the debt over the last eight years,” Conrad said, referring to the previous Republican Congress and Bush Administration.
“I would ask unanimous consent that if the senator wishes to make this retroactive, we will accept his amendment,” Gregg shot back moments later, getting big laughs from his colleagues.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., voted against Gregg’s amendment.
“We have inherited a record deficit and the worst economic crisis in generations, and in order to get our economy back on track we need to invest in priorities that have been ignored for far too long,” Shaheen said in a statement, listing health care and a sustainable green economy among her top priorities.
“I am confident we will be able to pass a budget that invests in our future, strengthens the middle class, and restores fiscal discipline,” she said.
Jillian Jorgensen is an intern with the Boston University Washington News Service.