Lawmakers clash on tax financing budget amendment

Members of Congress took up debate on amendments to a budget bill today. Republicans and Democrats offered hundreds of amendments to the bill, and the discussion featured a clash on tax financing for presidential campaigns and party conventions.

Lawmakers are considering a continuing resolution, H.R. 1, to fund the government until September. Rep. Cole offered Amendment 208, which would prevent implementation of the presidential tax financing system using funds appropriated under the continuing resolution.

Last month, the U.S. House passed H.R. 359, which would have abolished the Presidential Election Campaign Fund, but the measure has stalled in the Senate and President Obama would likely veto a stand-alone bill, assuming the Senate could pass it.

While the measure would not be permanent, Rep. Tom Cole, the sponsor of H.R. 259 and Amendment 208 to H.R. 1, said it would be a “down payment” on the goal of abolishing the system. He said the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated the amendment would save $38 million in budgetary authority and $40 million in outlays for Fiscal Year 2011 (CBO estimated repealing the program would save $617 million over ten years).

“We all know on this floor that we need to cut spending,” Cole said during the debate. “We can start today by cancelling political welfare for politicians and political party conventions.”

Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.) challenged the program’s description as “welfare” for politicians, arguing that the program was created as a post-Watergate anti-corruption measure. Rep. Serrano, of course, did not address how $745 million in private corruptions didn’t seem to corrupt President Barack Obama.

Serrano then made the ridiculous charge that the proposal, Amendment 208 to H.R. 1, was a “strike” at the White House. No serious observer, of course, expects President Obama to accept tax financing for the 2012 campaign. Obama’s advisors have suggested the campaign will raise more than $1 billion and have signaled the all clear for allies to raise unlimited funds (a reversal from the campaign’s 2008 posture).

“The gentleman [Rep. Cole] calls it political welfare for presidential candidates. But, in fact, without this, it is totally in the hands of people making donations, whereas here it is the average American citizen who gets a chance to donate to this campaign,” Rep. Serrano said.

“And so, we know that a lot of the amendments that will come up to day are directed not necessarily at issues, but I believe, and many of us believe, are directed at who is the resident of the White House right now, and we have an election coming up in 2012,” he said. “And I think some would rather have an open-ended, private contribution situation where a lot of very wealthy people in this country control the giving to elections. So I really think that this is an amendment that is-that sounds like a savings. But it isn’t. It is part of many amendments we will see today that strike at this particular President, and at the White House, and at the expenses that have to do with the President of the United States.”

Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) challenged that brash assertion, noting that Obama raised money from donors large and small in raising record sums for his 2008 campaign—and the Republic survived (some would even say thrived):

“The President of the United States today showed the best example of people all around the country of every financial means to contribute to his campaign,” Rep. Emerson said. “Friends of my children did $5 a month… That was the most incredible show of involvement that I’ve seen in my life. To say that it would be against this president, is I think, not fair.”

The House is expected to vote on the amendments to H.R. 1 and the final version of the bill by the end of the day Thursday.

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.