Senate passes GOP budget after marathon of amendment votes

 
The Senate approved a Republican budget resolution just after 3:00 a.m. Friday morning in a 52-46 vote, capping a grueling day of floor work that required lawmakers to take sides on dozens of amendments.
 
 
 
 
Republicans could only afford three defections on the budget, since no members of the Democratic caucus supported it. That left GOP leaders with little margin for error as they sought to approve the plan, which calls for cutting $5.1 trillion from federal spending over 10 years.
 
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Passage of the budget represents a victory for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellSenate moves to get out of town Obama urges McConnell, Reid to sustain 9/11 bill veto Reid to GOP: Commit to Flint money MORE (R-Ky.) and Sen. Mike EnziMike EnziOvernight Energy: Obama integrates climate change into national security planning Senate panel approves pension rescue for coal miners GOP pressures Kerry on Russia's use of Iranian airbase MORE (R-Wyo.), the Budget Committee chairman who carefully shepherded the plan through several political minefields in the upper chamber.
 
Still, the fight is far from over.
 
The House passed its own budget resolution Wednesday, which means that the two chambers will now have to form a conference committee to resolve their differences after the Easter recess.
 
Earlier Thursday, McConnell said the Republican budget delivers on the promises the party made in 2014, when voters returned them to power in the upper chamber for the first time in eight years.
 
“They called for change, and today, the Senate is delivering that change,” McConnell said.
 
The White House dismissed the Senate GOP budget in a statement released Friday morning. It said the budget relied on gimmicks and placed the burden of deficit-reuction on the middle class, seniors and children.
 
While passage of the Senate budget was expected, the votes of Cruz, Rubio and Paul remained a mystery for most of the day.
 
Cruz, the only Republican to formally declare his presidential candidacy, said he was still undecided before the “vote-a-rama” began.
 
“I’m still assessing it. I’m looking at it carefully and I’ll make a decision by the time the vote comes up,” Cruz said.
 
The spotlight was on the 2016 contenders throughout the "vote-a-rama," which gave all of them a chance to bring forward policy proposals that they could tout on the campaign trail later this year.
 
Paul, who faces skepticism in the GOP for his views on foreign policy, proposed an amendment to raise defense spending by nearly $190 billion over the next two years. The Senate refused to advance it, voting 4-96, with Cruz and Rubio both opposing it.
 
Rubio, along with freshman Sen. Tom CottonTom CottonFears mount that Obama will change course on Israel in final months GOP pressures Kerry on Russia's use of Iranian airbase GOP to Obama: Sanction Chinese entities to get to North Korea MORE (R-Ark.), offered an amendment to bolster military spending, which failed in a 32-68 vote. Cruz supported the amendment and Paul voted against it. 
 
Graham, another Republican eyeing a run for the White House, voted for the budget plan. He was responsible for a provision that would increase war funding for the Pentagon to $96 billion. 
 
A deal to end the marathon session was reached after the Senate recessed shortly after 1 a.m., and Republicans huddled to discuss a way forward. 
 
The Senate came back into session about an hour later, after Democrats and Republicans culled hundreds of submitted amendments down to three more for each side. 
 
During the long “vote-a-rama,” senators from both sides of the aisle offered amendments that were intended to make members of the opposing party squirm, with some votes likely to become fodder for campaign ads next year.  
 
Many of the amendments proposed the creation of deficit-neutral reserve funds for certain issues, which would essentially serve as placeholders for later negotiations.
 
Democrats won approval on an amendment requiring up to seven paid sick days for workers, an issue that they believe could be potent in the 2016 campaign. Cruz, Rubio, Paul and Graham all voted against it.
 
Republicans, meanwhile, won passage of an amendment to increase awareness of any ObamaCare tax included in monthly insurance premiums, and another that would block a federal tax on carbon emissions. 
 
The Senate also unanimously adopted an amendment that backs imposing additional sanctions against Iran if the U.S. president cannot confirm that the Iranian government is complying with any future nuclear deal.
 
A proposal from McConnell was included that aims to prohibit the federal government from withholding highway funds from states that refuse to submit implementation plans for the EPA's clean power initiative. All 54 Republicans voted for it, along with red-state Democrats Joe DonnellyJoe DonnellyOvernight Finance: Senate rejects funding bill as shutdown looms | Labor Dept. to probe Wells Fargo | Fed to ease stress test rules for small banks Overnight Energy: Judges scrutinize Obama climate rule Funding bill rejected as shutdown nears MORE (Ind.), Heidi HeitkampHeidi HeitkampWells Fargo board to decide on executive clawbacks Week ahead: Funding fight dominates Congress Overnight Finance: McConnell offers 'clean' funding bill | Dems pan proposal | Flint aid, internet measure not included | More heat for Wells Fargo | New concerns on investor visas MORE (N.D.) and Joe ManchinJoe ManchinOvernight Finance: Senate rejects funding bill as shutdown looms | Labor Dept. to probe Wells Fargo | Fed to ease stress test rules for small banks Overnight Energy: Judges scrutinize Obama climate rule Funding bill rejected as shutdown nears MORE (W.Va.). 
 
Another amendment attached to the budget calls for repealing the federal estate tax.
 
Democrats won an amendment that would permit legally-married same-sex couples to receive equal access to Social Security and Department of Veterans Affairs benefits. Eleven Republicans voted for it, including six up for reelection in 2016 — Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteRyan optimistic about GOP majorities in House and Senate Dems gain upper hand on budget GOP senators hit FBI on early probe of NY bombing suspect MORE (N.H.), Richard BurrRichard BurrDem groups invest big in Bayh in Ind. Senate race The Trail 2016: Fight night Poll finds races for president, Senate tight in North Carolina MORE (N.C.), Ron JohnsonRon JohnsonCalifornia to allow experimental drug treatments for the terminally ill Warren to rally Wisconsin college students for Feingold Ryan optimistic about GOP majorities in House and Senate MORE (Wis.), Mark KirkMark KirkSenate rivals gear up for debates The Trail 2016: Trump seizes on Charlotte violence Iran president hints at future prisoner swaps, cash settlements with US MORE (Ill.), Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiOvernight Energy: Obama integrates climate change into national security planning GOP pressures Kerry on Russia's use of Iranian airbase Overnight Energy: Lawmakers kick off energy bill talks MORE (Alaska) and Rob PortmanRob PortmanRyan optimistic about GOP majorities in House and Senate Dems kill more ads in Ohio Senate rivals gear up for debates MORE (Ohio).
 
Passing budgets in both chambers is only the first hurdle for Republicans, who want to use the budgetary process to take on President Obama.
 
Their next challenge will be reaching a joint conference agreement on the budget, which Republicans haven’t done since 2005.
 
Republicans are determined to get a budget through, since it will not require a signature from Obama and could lay the groundwork for repealing the healthcare law in a deficit-reduction package later this year.
 
 
“For the most part, I don’t sense it’s impossible,” he said, adding that Senate Republicans have previously supported House GOP budgets from Rep. Paul RyanPaul RyanStars, lawmakers honor Boys and Girls Club's Youth of the Year The Hill's 12:30 Report Ryan: Pacific deal can't be fixed in time for lame-duck vote MORE (R-Wis.).
 
“I’ve always thought that fundamentally their ideas are good and supported them. I think that’ll be the mood of most people here.”
 
If a joint conference agreement does pass both chambers, Republicans will be able to trigger a budget procedure known as reconciliation that could be used to target ObamaCare, reform the tax code and raise the debt ceiling, among other things.
 
Bills written under reconciliation rules cannot be filibustered in the Senate, freeing McConnell from the need to find Democratic votes.
 
While the two GOP budgets are similar, important differences could make it difficult to reconcile them. Enzi’s blueprint would balance in 10 years by cutting $5.1 trillion. The House budget, prepared by his counterpart Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), would balance in nine years by cutting $5.5 trillion.
  
Enzi’s plan doesn’t reform Medicare, but honors Obama’s request to find $430 billion in savings for the program. Price’s plan would partially privatize Medicare by converting it to a premium support system.
 
Both budgets would transform Medicaid into block grants. Neither plan offers a major overhaul to Social Security.
 
Despite the differences, parts of their two documents closely resemble each other in major ways, particularly on the push to repeal ObamaCare.
 
Both the House and Senate GOP budgets keep in place the spending limits known as sequestration that were imposed under a 2011 budget law. The Defense Department’s base budget in both blueprints is $523 billion, while the ceiling for non-defense domestic programs is $493 billion.
 
Just like the Senate, the House budget would approve $96 billion for the war fund next year — money that wouldn’t be subject to sequestration cuts.
 
There’s a caveat to the plan, however. In Enzi’s budget, a 60-vote point of order would be imposed against any spending bill that would increase the war fund above $58 billion. That means it would need a supermajority of 60 votes to win approval.
 
Altogether, the Senate budget would cut $4.3 trillion in mandatory spending over the next 10 years and $97 billion from discretionary programs.