Chattanooga Times Free Press: GOP On Serious Budget Path

Posted on March 27, 2015

If you pay too much attention to Washington, D.C.-centric media, you'd think members of the Republican Congress couldn't tie their shoes, much less pass a budget.

But House Republicans did pass a budget Wednesday, and the Senate is expected to do so within the next few days. The real work still would be ahead in an April budget reconciliation committee as the two houses merge their differences, but passage there would be a giant step.

Indeed, if that happens, Republican bills on issues such as tax reform, Obamacare and raising the debt ceiling could not be blocked by a Senate Democratic filibuster and could be passed with 51 votes instead of the typical 60.

Theoretically, then, Obamacare, the central issue that gave the GOP its House majority in 2010 and helped achieve its Senate majority in 2014, then could be repealed with a simple majority. The bill, of course, would be vetoed by President Obama, but passage would be a signature achievement for Republicans who have campaigned on merely taking such a vote for four years.

In the meantime, though, Tennessee Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker have filed or cosponsored amendments to the budget being considered this week.

* The current wind production tax credit would be repealed in an amendment sponsored by Alexander and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. Alexander says there's a place for subsidies to jump-start new strategies but that wind energy was classified in 2011 by President Obama's energy secretary as a "mature technology." So generous is the nearly $6 billion subsidy in some markets, he says, that wind producers can practically give their electricity away and still make a profit. Alexander would, in turn, double the money in basic energy research.

* The federal death tax would be repealed in an amendment co-sponsored by Alexander. Such an amendment would keep people who inherit small businesses and family farms from having to sell them in order to pay the tax burden, which is as high as 40 percent (with an exemption for the first $5.25 million in property).

* The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would be prevented from prohibiting the interstate commerce of legal ivory and products that contain legal ivory in a bill cosponsored by Alexander. What he hopes to prevent is a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regulation that would confiscate guns, guitars or anything else that contains legal ivory if it is transported across state lines to be sold. Alexander said he supports stopping poachers and stopping the sale of illegal ivory but not things purchased or inherited when the sale of ivory was not illegal.

* Research into exascale supercomputing would be jump-started in an amendment sponsored by Alexander and Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis. It would provide funds to create partnerships among private industry, universities and Department of Energy national labs in order to develop a computer system that would be the fastest in the world, a status now held by the Tianhe-2 supercomputer in China.

* American COMPETES legislation, which increases basic science research for economic competitiveness, would be reauthorized in an amendment sponsored by Alexander.

* The sale of U.S. Treasury-owned senior preferred shares in the government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would be prohibited without congressional approval in an amendment sponsored by Corker and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. The two housing finance agencies were bailed out and taken into government conservatorship during the 2008 financial crisis, and Corker has long believed they should be wound down and comprehensive housing finance reform passed. The amendment would assure Congress has a hand in what happens to the agencies.

It is clear from these common-sense amendments, several of which have bipartisan support, that Alexander and Corker take seriously the commitment of the Republican Congress to discuss and pass legislation -- in both big and small bites -- that would help the country be more competitive and help its people keep more of what rightfully belongs to them.

Such a commitment is a refreshing change from the previous Senate under former Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who prevented numerous bills from even getting to the floor and being granted a fair hearing because widespread support on such legislation might embarrass President Obama.