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 CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTrump-backed challenger to Cheney decried him as 'racist,' 'xenophobic' in 2016: report FBI investigating alleged assault on Fort Bliss soldier at Afghan refugee camp The Memo: Biden's immigration problems reach crescendo in Del Rio MORE (Texas) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 White House debates vaccines for air travel Senate lawmakers let frustration show with Blinken 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 Antonio RubioOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Pentagon officials prepare for grilling Gen. Milley faces his toughest day yet on Capitol Hill The Memo: Biden's immigration problems reach crescendo in Del Rio MORE (R-Fla.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump-backed challenger to Cheney decried him as 'racist,' 'xenophobic' in 2016: report State Department spokesperson tests positive for COVID-19 The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Lawmakers fret over wild week of deadlines MORE (R-S.C.), who are also considered likely to run for the White House, voted in favor of the budget.
Sens. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinFederal watchdog calls on Congress, Energy Dept. to overhaul nuclear waste storage process Senate advances Biden consumer bureau pick after panel logjam Republicans caught in California's recall trap MORE (D-Calif.) and Barbara MikulskiBarbara Ann MikulskiHarris invites every female senator to dinner next week Will the real Lee Hamiltons and Olympia Snowes please stand up? Bottom line 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 McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFord to bolster electric vehicle production in multi-billion dollar push On The Money — GOP blocks spending bill to kick off chaotic week in congress Overnight Health Care — Presented by Alrtia — Booster shots get bipartisan rollout MORE (R-Ky.) and Sen. Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziCheney on same-sex marriage opposition: 'I was wrong' What Republicans should demand in exchange for raising the debt ceiling Senate votes to end debate on T infrastructure bill 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 Bryant CottonHillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Tech groups take aim at Texas Republican lawmakers raise security, privacy concerns over Huawei cloud services Debt ceiling fight pits corporate America against Republicans 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 DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyRepublicans may regret restricting reproductive rights Sanders traveling to Iowa, Indiana to pitch Biden's spending package Supreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden's 2020 agenda MORE (Ind.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampWashington's oldest contact sport: Lobbyists scrum to dilute or kill Democrats' tax bill Progressives prepare to launch counterattack in tax fight Business groups aim to divide Democrats on .5T spending bill MORE (N.D.) and Joe ManchinJoe ManchinProtesters demonstrate outside Manchin's houseboat over opposition to reconciliation package Security policy expert: Defense industry donations let lawmakers 'ignore public opinion' Manchin cast doubt on deal this week for .5T spending bill 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 Ann AyottePoll: Potential Sununu-Hassan matchup in N.H. a dead heat Democrats facing tough reelections back bipartisan infrastructure deal Sununu seen as top recruit in GOP bid to reclaim Senate MORE (N.H.), Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrAnti-Trump Republicans on the line in 2022 too The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Biden jumps into frenzied Dem spending talks GOP senators say Biden COVID-19 strategy has 'exacerbated vaccine hesitancy' MORE (N.C.), Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonBiden sidesteps GOP on judicial vacancies, for now The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats argue price before policy amid scramble Liberal group launches campaign urging Republicans to support Biden's agenda MORE (Wis.), Mark KirkMark Steven KirkDuckworth announces reelection bid Brave new world: Why we need a Senate Human Rights Commission Senate majority battle snags Biden Cabinet hopefuls MORE (Ill.), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiDo progressives prefer Trump to compromise? This week: Democrats hit make-or-break moment for Biden GOP warns McConnell won't blink on debt cliff MORE (Alaska) and Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanRepublicans criticizing Afghan refugees face risks Anti-Trump Republicans on the line in 2022 too Major US port target of attempted cyber attack 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 SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsOvernight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability Stanford professors ask DOJ to stop looking for Chinese spies at universities in US Overnight Energy & Environment — Democrats detail clean electricity program 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 Davis RyanCheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' Cheney allies flock to her defense against Trump challenge Paul Ryan researched narcissistic personality disorder after Trump win: book 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.