A special panel dreamed up by Speaker Paul Ryan to end the constant cycle of government shutdowns crashed and burned on Thursday.
The special panel tasked with recommending budget fixes overwhelmingly rejected its own set of proposals, even after lawmakers admitted the package included only modest changes to the way Congress approves budgets and funds the government.
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The failed vote follows months of amicable work toward a bipartisan deal. In recent weeks, however, partisan feuding divided the group as members from each side of the aisle began accusing the other party’s leaders of dooming approval in the Senate.
“We got gamed here,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), who, at one point, banged his fist on the table as he bemoaned the panel’s failure. “By leadership — House, Senate, Republican, Democrat.”
Perdue’s long-time ally on budget issues, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), agreed: “On both sides, there is no interest in going forward in this Congress.”
The creation of the Joint Select Committee was the brainchild of former House Budget chairman Ryan after Congress experienced one of its most dysfunctional funding cycles of all time, with two government shutdowns, five continuing resolutions and a long-delayed budget deal.
While just seven of the group’s 16 members voted for the recommendations, only two said they opposed the actual bill.
“Apparently we’re not willing to have the political will,” said Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.), who serves as both chairman of the House Budget Committee and co-chair of the reform panel.
Womack was among the seven members who voted in support of the recommendations, which are due Friday, as ordered by the February budget deal that created the special panel.
The final kiss of death for the Joint Select Committee comes after three days of markups, five hearings and three dozen amendments.
Over the last few weeks, the House-led budget panel hit a familiar stumbling block: the Senate.
Democrats claim Senate Republican leaders were plotting “parliamentary mischief” for floor consideration. So Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the panel’s other co-chair, demanded a Senate floor agreement to limit debate and amendments in that chamber.
Republicans, for their part, accused Senate Democratic leaders of intentionally holding up the process for no clear reason. GOP lawmakers and aides claim Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) had resisted attempts by his own party to move the legislation forward.
For the handful of members who characterize themselves as true budget reformers, the feeling of deflation was apparent. They blamed both parties.
“At best, we’ll be able to say, ‘It almost worked, and we almost got our job done,’” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).
Over several months, the leadership-appointed panel swatted down the most ambitious ideas for overhauling the budget process. The final text of the agreement contained changes like requiring Congress to pass a budget every two years, instead of annually. It also would have required a “fiscal state of the nation” report each year.
Sweeping proposals to “de-weaponize” the debt ceiling, tighten spending limits and disband Congress’ budget committees were all voted down or withdrawn.
The panel even rejected an amendment that would have eliminated the Senate’s widely detested tradition of “vote-a-rama,” the all-night session of voting on dozens of floor amendments that rarely have any effect on actual budget policy.
On the final vote, just two Democrats, Reps. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) and Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) defied their party’s leaders by voting for the plan. The other six voted “present.”