The Senate Finance Committee voted yesterday to send a $1.29 trillion debt ceiling bill to the floor, but not before one of those shuffles that demonstrate how sensitive politicians are about raising the limit on the national debt.
As Committee Chairman Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) called for a voice vote on the issue, Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr. (Ind.-Va.) asked for a roll call, and the members were forced to record their position.
On the first go around, 11 members voted "yes" and Byrd and Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) voted "no." Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), who is up for reelection this year, announced he was voting "yes" in committee to get the bill to the floor, but would vote "no" later on because he questioned the figures used to calculate the new ceiling.
Then he noticed that Sen. William L. Armstrong (R-Colo.) had not voted at all. Moynihan asked Dole how many members were present, if anyone had voted "present" and, looking at Armstrong, whether everyone had voted.
Armstrong, a fiscal conservative who said that he has voted consistently against debt ceiling measures, said, "I'd rather not." Moynihan then sputtered that he would be accused of voting for a $1.3 trillion debt and was switching his vote to "no."
Asked later why he didn't vote, Armstrong said, "I was passed over the first time and just didn't get around to voting." He scoffed at any suggestion he might be afraid to state his position. "The first time I'm not on the record as opposing the debt ceiling a huge crack will open in the earth and cities from New York to Denver will fall into it," he said.
A committee aide said later that it was possible that Armstrong didn't want to vote against Dole. For years when the Democrats controlled Congress, Republicans voted en masse against debt ceiling bills, forcing the Democrats to come up with the votes for passage. Now the opposite often happens.