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.
Only two Republicans voted against the budget: Sens. Ted CruzTed CruzTrump: Rivals who don't back me shouldn't be allowed to run for office Kasich touts poll showing he does better against Clinton than Trump Two transgender candidates win primaries MORE (Texas) and Rand PaulRand PaulTrump: Rivals who don't back me shouldn't be allowed to run for office Trump hires Rand Paul's former digital director: report Trump flexes new digital muscle MORE (Ky.). Cruz announced this week he is running for president in 2016, and Paul is expected to do the same shortly.
Sens. Marco RubioMarco RubioRubio: Turkey attack 'directed' by ISIS Trump: Rivals who don't back me shouldn't be allowed to run for office GOP mega-donor: Trump would cause 'global depression' MORE (R-Fla.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamOvernight Defense: US blames ISIS for Turkey attack | Afghan visas in spending bill | Army rolls up its sleeves Senate panel passes bill that would create 4K visas for Afghans Trump: Rivals who don't back me shouldn't be allowed to run for office MORE (R-S.C.), who are also considered likely to run for the White House, voted in favor of the budget.
Sens. Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinHomeland Security Committee pushes encryption commission in new report Clinton ally stands between Sanders and chairmanship dream Clinton endorses Warner-McCaul encryption commission MORE (D-Calif.) and Barbara MikulskiBarbara MikulskiSenate Appropriations speeds through spending bills Clinton ally stands between Sanders and chairmanship dream If 'bipartisanship' is now a dirty word, how about a rebranding? MORE (D-Md.) abstained.
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.
Passage of the budget represents a victory for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellSenators scuffle over trace of Planned Parenthood language in GMO bill Overnight Finance: Senate sends Puerto Rico bill to Obama | Treasury, lawmakers to meet on tax rules | Obama hits Trump on NAFTA | Fed approves most banks' capital plans Senate passes Puerto Rico debt relief bill MORE (R-Ky.) and Sen. Mike EnziMike EnziJudd Gregg: The silver lining Judd Gregg: A little change Lobbying World 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 CottonCotton: No vetting for Trump VP spot Coors, ex-NFL coach to fundraise for Trump GOP senators: Brexit vote a wake-up call 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: Trump threatens NAFTA withdrawal | Senate poised for crucial Puerto Rico vote | Ryan calls for UK trade deal | Senate Dems block Zika funding deal Senate Democrats block Zika agreement ahead of recess Post Orlando, hawks make a power play MORE (Ind.), Heidi HeitkampHeidi HeitkampGun-control supporters plan next steps versus NRA McConnell quashes Senate effort on guns Senators roll out bipartisan gun proposal MORE (N.D.) and Joe ManchinJoe ManchinOvernight Finance: Trump threatens NAFTA withdrawal | Senate poised for crucial Puerto Rico vote | Ryan calls for UK trade deal | Senate Dems block Zika funding deal Overnight Energy: Volkswagen reaches .7B settlement over emissions Senators rally for coal miner pension fix 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 AyotteSenator calls for pause in accepting Syrian refugees after Istanbul attack GOP Senate super-PAC reserves M in airtime Pollster: Clinton leads in 5 battlegrounds MORE (N.H.), Richard BurrRichard BurrHomeland Security Committee pushes encryption commission in new report Clinton endorses Warner-McCaul encryption commission Lobbying world MORE (N.C.), Ron JohnsonRon JohnsonPollster: Clinton leads in 5 battlegrounds Juan Williams: GOP sounds the sirens over Trump Vulnerable Republican seeks edge on homeland security MORE (Wis.), Mark KirkMark KirkSenate panel approves 0M for international climate fund Senator calls for pause in accepting Syrian refugees after Istanbul attack Overnight Healthcare: Blame game over Zika funding MORE (Ill.), Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiSenators seek state revenue sharing for offshore drilling Senate panel approves 0M for international climate fund GOP senator praises Supreme Court's abortion ruling MORE (Alaska) and Rob PortmanRob PortmanOvernight Finance: Trump threatens NAFTA withdrawal | Senate poised for crucial Puerto Rico vote | Ryan calls for UK trade deal | Senate Dems block Zika funding deal Overnight Energy: Volkswagen reaches .7B settlement over emissions Senators rally for coal miner pension fix 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.
Sen. Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsTrump hopes for boost from Brexit vote GOP senators: Brexit vote a wake-up call Sessions warns of 'radical' Clinton immigration policy MORE (R-Ala.), vice chairman of the Budget panel, told The Hill a conference agreement is doable.
“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 RyanOvernight Finance: Senate sends Puerto Rico bill to Obama | Treasury, lawmakers to meet on tax rules | Obama hits Trump on NAFTA | Fed approves most banks' capital plans The Trail 2016: When a pivot isn’t always a pivot Kasich touts poll showing he does better against Clinton than Trump 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.