Senate Democrats voted to adopt statutory pay-go rules for legislative business on Thursday, in what party leaders described as an affirmation of their commitment to budgetary discipline.
They received no Republican votes.
The measure, which would require that any additional spending measure be offset by funds from elsewhere, passed the chamber with 60 Democrats voting yea and 40 Republicans voting nay.
Such a strict partisan breakdown is hardly rare in the current Congress. But for pay-go, it is a bit unique. Four Republican senators who opposed the measure on Thursday voted for nearly an identical measure in 2006.
That list includes Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both moderates from Maine, George Voinovich, the retiring Senator from Ohio, and John McCain, the party's standard-bearer in the 2008 presidential elections.
What prompted the four to switch isn't entirely clear. The respective pieces of legislation are not that far apart, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office confirmed.
Calls to each senator's press office were not immediately returned. The main gripe among Republicans lawmakers has been that the current pay-go measure is an invitation for tax increases.
Democrats, naturally, have cried foul at Republicans who demand devotion to fiscal discipline while opposing provisions that would achieve just that. Among the evidence they point to is another GOP policy reversal that occurred this past week, in which five Republicans withdrew their co-sponsorship of a bill to establish a debt-reduction commission citing (once more) concerns about tax hikes. McCain, who is facing a tough primary challenger in 2010, was on that list as well.
Pay-go, it should be noted, was not always controversial. Then Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) applauded the fiscal soundness of such a measure back in September 2002, a month before the Senate passed it by voice vote.
"Of all the issues you will vote on, the most significant opportunity to save taxpayers money over the next year is this little resolution," former Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M,), then the top Republican on the Budget Committee, said at the time.