This week: Senate aims to kick off tax reform
© Greg Nash

Senate Republicans hope to get the ball rolling this week on tax reform, a key priority after their efforts to repeal ObamaCare collapsed earlier this year.

GOP lawmakers are expected to vote on the fiscal 2018 budget, which paves the way for Republicans to pass tax reform by a simple majority and avoid a Democratic filibuster.

The resolution, which passed the Budget Committee along party lines earlier this month, will allow the tax plan to add up to $1.5 trillion to the deficit over a decade.

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Republicans are expected to be able to pass the budget, but have little room for error. With a 52-seat majority, they'll need the support of 50 senators. Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulPressure mounts for Trump to reconsider Syria withdrawal House Republicans call for moving State of the Union to Senate chamber GOP rep: 'Rand Paul is giving the president bad advice' on Afghanistan and Syria MORE (R-Ky.) is viewed as a likely "no" vote. 

Before they can take a final vote on the budget, senators will need to go through an hours-long vote-a-rama — a process that in the past has stretched well into the night.

Under the free-wheeling floor procedure, senators can force a vote on any amendment to the budget that they want. Lawmakers normally file hundreds of amendments and spend hours on the Senate floor voting.

The House, which is out of town this week, passed its budget earlier this month. Once the Senate passes its budget, the two chambers will have to come together to sort out the differences between their bills.

The Senate budget would cut nondefense spending starting in 2019 and result in up to $106 billion by 2027. It would also only cut mandatory spending by $1 billion, compared to the House version’s $203 billion.

Republicans want to pass tax reform by the end of the year. The move would give them something to tout heading into the 2018 election as they've have struggled to score political victories despite having unified control of government.

GOP lawmakers are increasingly warning about the political consequences of not passing tax reform. 

"If tax reform crashes and burns, if [on] ObamaCare, nothing happens, we could face a bloodbath," Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGroup aiming to draft Beto O’Rourke unveils first 2020 video Howard Dean looking for a 'younger, newer' Democratic nominee in 2020 Congress can stop the war on science MORE (R-Texas), who is up for reelection in 2018, told a group of roughly 100 wealthy donors during an event in New York on Friday.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamDems revive impeachment talk after latest Cohen bombshell Overnight Defense: Second Trump-Kim summit planned for next month | Pelosi accuses Trump of leaking Afghanistan trip plans | Pentagon warns of climate threat to bases | Trump faces pressure to reconsider Syria exit Dem calls for Cohen to testify before Senate panel over explosive report MORE (R-S.C) added separately on Sunday that the GOP is "in trouble" if their tax plan falls apart. 

"We promised to cut taxes and we’ve yet to do it. If we’re successful, Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTSA agents protest government shutdown at Pittsburgh airport The case for Russia sanctions Pompeo planning to meet with Pat Roberts amid 2020 Senate speculation MORE’s fine," Graham told CBS’s “Face the Nation." "If we’re not, we’re all in trouble. We lose our majority and I think President Trump will not get reelected.”

McConnell and Trump are scheduled to have lunch Monday at the White House.

Insurance Deal

Sens. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderMcConnell blocks House bill to reopen government for second time Senators restart shutdown talks — and quickly hit roadblocks GOP senators propose bill to pay 'excepted' workers during shutdown MORE (R-Tenn.) and Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurraySen. Murray says Washington behavior reminds her of former preschool students Senate rejects government-wide ban on abortion funding Overnight Health Care: Dem chair plans hearing on Medicare for all | Senate GOP talks drug prices with Trump health chief | PhRMA CEO hopeful Trump reverses course on controversial pricing proposal MORE (D-Wash.) are continuing to try to negotiate a deal aimed at stabilizing the insurance market after President Trump announced he would nix funding for key ObamaCare payments to insurers.

The White House announced late last week that it would end ObamaCare's cost-sharing reduction payments. The administration said that it "cannot lawfully make" the payments to insurers because they weren't appropriated under the Affordable Care Act.

Murray said in the wake of the decision that she is still talking to Alexander and believes "we can reach a deal quickly."

Alexander signaled late last month that they were close to a deal, but acknowledged he would need to win over not only a significant number of Senate Republicans but the House and White House.

Alexander and Murray, the top senators on the Senate Health Committee, are trying to reach an agreement on legislation to provide the payments to insurers in return for more flexibility on state waivers and the ability to buy “copper plans” that include less coverage but are cheaper.

Democrats are warning that they could also demand the payments as part of a December deal to avoid a government shutdown.

"I think we're going to have a very good opportunity in the omnibus to get this done in a bipartisan way, if we can't get it done sooner," Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump blasts Pelosi for wanting to leave country during shutdown The Senate should host the State of the Union Dem senators debate whether to retweet Cardi B video criticizing Trump over shutdown MORE (D-N.Y.) told reporters during a conference call on Friday.

He added that Republicans “own” the health-care system after the decision to stop the payments and a separate executive order and will be under pressure to pass legislation to stabilize the insurance market.

"Democrats are going to work very hard to get these cost-sharing payments restored, but remember there are a whole lot of Republicans who want to get them restored, too,” he said.

Disaster Relief

Senators need to tackle a supplemental aid package to fund relief efforts to humanities hit by disasters throughout the United States.

The House passed the legislation last week before leaving Washington. The bill would provide $36.5 billion bill to fund hurricane relief, a flood insurance program and wildfire recovery efforts in the West amid a string of natural disasters.

It also includes $18.7 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) disaster relief fund, $16 billion to address national flood insurance program debt and $576.5 million for wildfire recovery efforts. It also provided $1.27 billion for disaster food assistance for Puerto Rico.

The House approved the bill hours after Trump sparked a bipartisan backlash late last week after he tweeted that FEMA and federal resources could not stay in the U.S. territory "forever."