Last night, the Senate passed President Obama’s budget in a 55-43 vote. While not a single Republican broke with their party to vote yes on the measure, two “moderate” Democrats — Sens. Evan Bayh (D-IN) and Ben Nelson (D-NE) — voted no. Nelson defended his vote in a prepared statement:
The administration inherited a lot of red ink in this budget, along with our ailing economy. But this budget still has trillion dollar-plus deficits in the next two years, and adds unsustainably to the debt. These are tough times, and the federal government needs to take a lesson from American families and cut down on the things we can do without.
I respect the Administration offering an honest budget…but it just costs too much.
Similarly, Bayh issued a statement saying he opposed the budget in an attempt to be the voice of “fiscal responsibility“:
[U]nder this budget, our national debt skyrockets from $11.1 trillion today to an estimated $17 trillion in 2014. As a percentage of our gross domestic product, it reaches a precarious 66.5 percent. The deficit remains larger than our projected economic growth, an unsustainable state of affairs. This budget will increase our borrowing from and dependence upon foreign nations. I cannot support such results. We can do better, and for the sake of our nation and our children’s future, we must.
But if Bayh and Nelson are really concerned about the cost of the budget, why then did they also vote yesterday in favor of a $250 billion tax cut for the rich? As the AP explains, Bayh and Nelson along with eight other “moderate” Democrats broke with Obama and voted to reduce estate taxes from which 99.7 percent of Americans were already exempt.
Further, as the Washington Post wrote yesterday, “Reducing the estate tax [will] harm charities because it eliminates some of the incentive for making charitable bequests — yet some of the very senators who back estate tax cuts were quick to denounce Obama administration tax proposals that they argued would hurt charitable giving.” Among those who opposed Obama’s proposal to reduce tax deductions for charitable giving: Bayh and Nelson.
For Bayh’s part, it’s unclear why he’s standing in the way of the agenda his constituents voted in support of last November. Yglesias suggests, “Bayh just made a decision of conscience and principle to stand with Mitch McConnell and Jim DeMint on the most important domestic policy vote of his career.”
Ezra Klein notes that Bayh, while garnering an exceedingly liberal voting record during the 109th Congress as he prepared to run for president, became the Democratic caucus’s most conservative member in the 110th Congress. Klein explains further that when put in the context of his record since 2001, Bayh’s recent turn to the right represents “a sharp break in his voting patterns.”