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Senate narrowly passes 2018 budget, paving way for tax reform

Senate Republicans took the first step Thursday evening toward passing a tax plan and fulfilling a long-held campaign pledge.

Senators narrowly voted 51-49 to pass the fiscal 2018 budget after a grueling hours-long marathon on the Senate floor. Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulPentagon: War in Afghanistan will cost billion in 2018 Overnight Finance: Senators near two-year budget deal | Trump would 'love to see a shutdown' over immigration | Dow closes nearly 600 points higher after volatile day | Trade deficit at highest level since 2008 | Pawlenty leaving Wall Street group Rand Paul calls for punishment if Congress can't reach a long-term budget deal MORE (R-Ky.) joined with every Democrat and independent to vote against the bill.

The spending blueprint is key to Republicans' efforts to pass tax reform because it includes instructions that will allow the plan to avoid a Democratic filibuster.

A last-minute amendment by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziSenate Republicans call on Trump to preserve NAFTA GOP is addressing tax cuts and a pension bill that could help coal miners Overnight Finance: Congress sends Trump funding bill to avert shutdown | WH sees 'tentative' deal on defense spending | GOP discovers corporate tax snag | Consumer bureau fight heats up | Apple could see B windfall from tax bill MORE (R-Wyo.) adopting technical and procedural language from the House budget may expedite the budget’s final passage.

A House GOP source says the amendment seems sufficient to avoid a conference committee between the two chambers, and allow the House to simply pass the Senate resolution.

“Passing this budget is critical to getting tax reform done, so we can strengthen our economy after years of stagnation under the previous administration,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDems confront Kelly after he calls some immigrants 'lazy' McConnell: 'Whoever gets to 60 wins' on immigration Overnight Defense: Latest on spending fight - House passes stopgap with defense money while Senate nears two-year budget deal | Pentagon planning military parade for Trump | Afghan war will cost B in 2018 MORE (R-Ky.).

With a 52-seat majority, McConnell had a narrow path to getting the votes needed to clear the budget through the upper chamber.

But GOP leadership caught a break this week when Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMcConnell: 'Whoever gets to 60 wins' on immigration Meghan McCain: Melania is 'my favorite Trump, by far' Kelly says Trump not likely to extend DACA deadline MORE (R-Ariz.), a holdout over defense spending, announced he would vote "yes," and Sen. Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranMcConnell urging Mississippi gov to appoint himself if Cochran resigns: report A pro-science approach to Yucca Mountain appropriations Senate Republicans call on Trump to preserve NAFTA MORE (R-Miss.), recovering from health issues, returned early to Washington.

The budget, meant to outline spending for the fiscal year, was widely viewed as a mere vehicle for passing tax reform.

"This is the biggest hoax cast upon the American people ever that this budget process even exists. The only thing about this that matters is in preparation for tax reform," said Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerPentagon: War in Afghanistan will cost billion in 2018 K.T. McFarland officially withdrawn as nominee for ambassador K.T. McFarland withdraws as nominee for ambassador MORE (R-Tenn.), who voted for the budget.  

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Corker noted bluntly that he believes the budget doesn't have a real-world impact and if he was chairman of the Budget Committee he would disband it. When a staffer told him he was about to miss an amendment vote, he shot back: "yeah, on a vote that doesn't matter."

McCain, explaining why he would support the budget, added: “At the end of the day, we all know that the Senate budget resolution will not impact final appropriations.”

The budget would allow the Senate GOP's tax plan to add up to $1.5 trillion to the deficit over a decade, a proposal that has raised concerns with fiscal hawks in the GOP. Its instructions call for the Senate Finance Committee to report a tax bill by Nov. 13.

Still, the document outlines the Senate GOP’s political vision. It maintains spending at 2017 levels for the year, but would then cut nondefense spending in subsequent years, leading to a $106 billion cut in 2027. It would also allow defense levels to continue rising at their current rates, reaching $684 billion at the end of a decade.

The resolution also proposes $473 billion in cuts to Medicare’s baseline spending over a decade and about $1 trillion from Medicaid, though those provisions are not enforceable without additional legislation.

The final discretionary spending levels that will fund the government in 2018 will have to be negotiated between Congressional Republicans, Democrats and the White House ahead of a Dec. 8 deadline. Failure to reach an agreement or pass a stopgap measure by then would lead to a government shutdown.

The Thursday vote comes after the Senate spent days debating the budget, including hours on the Senate floor during a marathon vote session known as vote-a-rama.

Under the freewheeling floor drama, any senator can force a vote on any measure. As of early Thursday afternoon, hundreds of amendments had been filed, most aimed at making the other party squirm by taking politically tough votes.

Senators narrowly rejected a push by Democrats, led by Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellGreen group backs Sens. Baldwin, Nelson for reelection The US is falling behind in artificial intelligence research WHIP LIST: Shutdown looms as Senate lacks votes to pass House spending bill MORE (D-Wash.), to block Republicans from using the budget to open up oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The bill doesn’t specifically mention the wildlife refuge, but asks the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to pass legislation to raise $1 billion over the next 10 years and drilling in the Arctic refuge is by far the most likely way to get to the total.

GOP Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeRubio on push for paid family leave: ‘We still have to work on members of my own party’ National ad campaign pushes Congress to pass legislation lowering drug prices Senate Republicans call on Trump to preserve NAFTA MORE (Utah) both forced their GOP colleagues to vote again on proposals aimed at allowing Republicans to repeal all or parts of ObamaCare with a simple majority.

“Republicans promised to repeal all of Obamacare, root and branch, they promised to repeal not block grant. Tonight I present another chance,” Paul tweeted, urging his caucus to agree to link the health care fight to the budget.

But GOP leadership has been cool to the idea of linking ObamaCare repeal to the fiscal 2018 budget, which is focused on setting up Republicans' ability to pass their tax plan with a simple majority.

Republicans said after the failed vote on a bill by GOP Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamMcConnell: 'Whoever gets to 60 wins' on immigration Overnight Tech: Uber exec says 'no justification' for covering up hack | Apple considers battery rebates | Regulators talk bitcoin | SpaceX launches world's most powerful rocket Overnight Cybersecurity: Tillerson proposes new cyber bureau at State | Senate bill would clarify cross-border data rules | Uber exec says 'no justification' for covering up breach MORE (S.C.) and Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyRepublican agenda clouded by division Sen. Cassidy says he won’t go back on Kimmel after health care fight GOP lawmakers help people injured in train crash MORE (La.) that health care should be put on the back burner until next year, instead of complicating an already uphill battle on tax reform.

Paul also introduced three additional amendments, each of which garnered more than 90 "no" votes. One would have required $98 billion of mandatory spending cuts in 2018, another would have trimmed $43 billion in discretionary spending, and the third would have expanded the level of tax cuts to $2.5 trillion over a decade from $1.5 trillion.

No Democrats supported the budget, which they argue would pave the way for a tax plan that would cut Medicare and Medicaid and raise taxes on middle-class Americans.

"We're going to make our colleagues say they want to vote to increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion. ...[And] we're going to also make our Republican colleagues vote to whether they want to raise taxes on the middle class," Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerGOP lawmaker: Dems not standing for Trump is 'un-American' Trump called for unity — he didn’t even last a week Overnight Defense: GOP plays hardball by attaching defense funding to CR | US reportedly drawing down in Iraq | Russia, US meet arms treaty deadline | Why the military wants 6B from Congress MORE (D-N.Y.) said earlier Thursday, outlining his caucus's strategy.

If the House chooses not to take up the Senate-passed bill, lawmakers will have to go to conference to work out differences with the House budget resolution, which proposes significantly higher spending for defense and cuts to nondefense discretionary spending.

The conference is expected to lean toward the Senate’s version of the resolution, which provides more leeway for passing tax reform.

House Budget Committee Chairman Diane BlackDiane Lynn BlackWomack wins initial support to become Budget chairman House Foreign Affairs chairman to retire This week: Clock ticks toward shutdown deadline MORE (R-Tenn.) has pushed for $203 billion in deficit reductions from mandatory spending to be included in the final product.