Senate starts debate on budget, pushing forward with tax reform
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Senate Republicans are pushing forward with a budget that is key to accomplishing their goal of passing tax reform this year. 

Senators voted 50-47 to start debate on the fiscal year 2018 budget, which includes instructions allowing Republicans to avoid a Democratic filibuster when they pass their tax plan. 

With a 52-seat majority, Republicans can only afford to lose two senators, if every member of the Democratic caucus votes no, to pass the budget with Vice President Pence breaking a 50-50 tie.

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Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulMcConnell moves to force vote on Trump's counterterrorism nominee Overnight Defense: Senate bucks Trump with Yemen war vote, resolution calling crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi killing | House briefing on Saudi Arabia fails to move needle | Inhofe casts doubt on Space Force Lame-duck Congress should pass First Step Act MORE (R-Ky.) voted to start the debate Tuesday after blasting a pair of the Senate's defense hawks over the budget. 

"Senators [John] McCain and [Lindsey] Graham are torpedoing the budget by insisting on busting the budget caps for more spending,” Paul said in a tweet. 

Paul is remaining tight-lipped on whether he will ultimately vote against the budget during a final vote later this week, but he's viewed as the caucus's most likely no vote. 

Leadership will need to balance demands from Paul, who told reporters he is in talks with the White House, with absences that leave them with no room for error. 

Sen. Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranBottom Line Races Dems narrowly lost show party needs to return to Howard Dean’s 50 state strategy Espy files to run for Senate in 2020, setting up possible rematch with Hyde-Smith MORE (R-Miss.) is recovering from health issues, and Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbySenate leaders eye large spending package after White House softens stance on wall The Memo: GOP frets as Trump shutdown looms Trump, Dems dig in over shutdown MORE (R-Ala.) is out of Washington for a funeral on Tuesday. 

Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) predicted that his caucus will be able to get enough support to pass the budget because most lawmakers view it as a necessary stepping stone to being able to pass tax reform. 

“I think people understand that it’s more about tax reform than the budget, and it’s a necessary step so we can move to tax reform," he said. 

Republicans got a little more breathing room with Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezMore oversight of America’s international media networks a good idea Pro-Israel organizations should finally seek payback against Iran deal Dems Trump lowers refugee goal to 30,000, he must meet it MORE (D-N.J.) — who is in the middle of a bribery and corruption trial — missing Tuesday's vote. His office has not said if he will be in Washington for a final vote on the budget.  

Tuesday's vote kicks off roughly two days of debate on the Senate floor and a marathon session — known as a vote-a-rama — before senators can take a final vote on the budget. 

The vote-a-rama is expected to start on Thursday and run late into the night, meaning a final vote on the budget is likely to take place on Thursday night or early Friday morning.

The Senate's 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.

It would also allow the Senate GOP's tax plan to add up to $1.5 trillion to the deficit over a decade. 

Niv Elis contributed