This vote was on whether to waive a procedural objection raised against an amendment to a bill. The amendment was offered to a bill that is intended to help stimulate the flagging U.S. economy with a $900 billion cash infusion. Dissatisfied with the Democrats' underlying stimulus bill, Republicans offered several amendments that lowered the total amount of money proposed to be spent overall and relied more on large blocs of tax breaks. This was one of those amendments.
The amendment, offered by John Ensign, R-Nev., would have erased the text of the stimulus bill and replaced it with a host of provisions that focus on housing and taxes, including a homeowner security program, allowing for certain refinanced mortgages to be guaranteed a 30-year interest rate at no more than 4.5 percent, and including various tax credits, including one for homebuyers.
"If we don’t figure out a way to get this housing market back on track, nothing we do in the name of economic stimulus will matter. It has to be our number one priority. If we can fix the problem—and the problem is housing—then we have a chance to fix our economy," Ensign said.
Max Baucus, D-Mont., raised what is known as a "point of order" against the amendment. A "point of order" is a procedural motion senators may bring up when they feel a bill, amendment or other motion violates certain rules set out by Congress to govern itself. Unless senators vote to waive those rules – which usually takes 60 votes, a large margin in the Senate -- the bill, amendment or motion in question can be killed by the point of order. Baucus' point of order charged that Ensign's amendment violated the rule that requires all spending not to exceed the budgetary allocations approved earlier in the year, which it did. Ensign then made a motion that the rule be waived in this case, which is what this vote was on.
Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., agreed that housing needs help, but he suggested that Ensign's amendment was not the proper way to do it.
The amendment "applies to people of any income. Do you want to have the Federal Government spend its money to give a multimillionaire a break on their mortgage? Third, the banks take a cut. Every time there is a refinancing, there are points. If we want to give people money, don’t let the banks take a cut," Schumer said. "It doesn’t help housing, it costs a fortune, it helps the banks, and it is one of the most expensive things before us. If you are a fiscal conservative, there is no way you can vote for this."
By a vote of 35-62, the motion to waive the rules and allow Ensign's amendment was rejected. Every Democrat present voted against the motion. All but five Republicans present voted for the motion. The end result is that the motion to waive the rules and allow an amendment to erase the stimulus bill and replace it with housing and tax programs was defeated. Subsequently the chair upheld the point of order and the amendment died.