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.


Sen. 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 (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 Bottom line Alabama zeroes in on Richard Shelby's future MORE (R-Miss.) is recovering from health issues, and Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - House Democrats plagued by Biden agenda troubles GOP warns McConnell won't blink on debt cliff McConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling 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) MenendezBiden, don't punish India Democrats reject hardball tactics against Senate parliamentarian  Biden threatens more sanctions on Ethiopia, Eritrea over Tigray conflict 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