Senate panel approves GOP budget

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The Senate Budget Committee advanced the GOP’s blueprint Thursday evening in a 12-10 party-line vote.

Before final approval, the panel accepted an amendment from Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamSenators to Obama: Make 'timely' call on Afghan troops levels Senate amendments could sink email privacy compromise Trump: Romney 'walks like a penguin' MORE (R-S.C.) and Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteSenators to Obama: Make 'timely' call on Afghan troops levels Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief fears sequestration's return Senate GOP ties Iran sanctions fight to defense bill MORE (R-N.H.) that increases the Pentagon’s war funding account from $58 billion to $96 billion.

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The language will mean the House and Senate Republican budgets will both seek to give the Pentagon a baseline budget of $523 billion, with an additional $96 billion in the overseas contingency operations (OCO) account.

Graham and other defense hawks in the House and Senate have been pushing for more funding for the Pentagon, and the additional OCO money is intended to provide the Pentagon with additional flexibility once spending ceilings set by a 2011 budget deal go back into effect on Oct. 1.

Democrats have decried the move as an accounting gimmick.

The initial GOP budget, introduced Wednesday by Budget Committee Chairman Mike EnziMike EnziGOP blocks slate of Obama judicial nominees Overnight Finance: New rules proposed to curb Wall Street pay GOP senator tries to tie 'No budget, no pay' to funding bill MORE (R-Wyo.), imposes a 60-vote point of order against any legislation providing more than $58 billion for the OCO fund.

However, in a House-Senate conference, it is possible that language could be stripped from the bill. The Senate vote suggests Republicans are unifying around the idea of providing the Pentagon with additional flexibility in its spending through the war funding account.

During the Senate panel’s marathon markup, the panel adopted dozens of amendments, including measures to prevent illegal immigrants from qualifying for a refundable tax credit and solidifying security at U.S. facilities overseas.  

A few Democratic amendments were wrapped into the Senate blueprint, including proposals to add tax expenditures to the budget resolution, conserve and protect federal lands and protect taxpayers from identity theft.

Most of the blueprint's major policy proposals were already included in the original version, before the markup began. 

The plan includes budget reconciliation instructions to two committees—Senate Finance and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP)—that could provide Congress with an avenue to answer a Supreme Court decision on ObamaCare later this year. Those panels are each tasked with producing bills that would reduce the deficit by at least $1 billion.

Like the House budget, the Senate blueprint repeals ObamaCare and doesn’t touch Social Security.

On Medicare, the Senate budget would meet Obama’s request to find $430 billion in savings. It calls for converting Medicaid to a model similar to the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) that is largely based on block grants to states.

Enzi’s budget would also reform welfare programs, which would lead to $600 billion in cuts. Other mandatory spending cuts include reductions to funding for conservation, agriculture and education programs, and the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.

Altogether, the budget would cut $4.3 trillion in mandatory spending over the next 10 years and $97 billion from discretionary programs.

The budget stops short of offering an ObamaCare replacement plan, but it includes a reserve fund that could lead to such legislation.

The House and Senate are expected to hold floor votes on their separate budget resolutions by the end of next week. If they both pass each chamber, Enzi has already said he hopes to reach a conference agreement by April 15.