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 PaulSenate passes .5 billion border bill, setting up fight with House Senate Health Committee advances bipartisan package to lower health costs Senate GOP to defeat proposal requiring approval for Iran attack 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 EnziBottom Line Former GOP Rep. Cynthia Lummis files to run for Wyoming Senate seat Beware of the 'unknown knowns' of budget reform 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 McConnellPelosi: Congress will receive election security briefing in July Adam Scott calls on McConnell to take down 'Parks & Rec' gif Trump says he spoke to Pelosi, McConnell on border package 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 McCainTrump says he's 'very happy' some GOP senators have 'gone on to greener pastures' The Hill's Morning Report - Democratic debates: Miami nice or spice? Trump pick brings scrutiny to 'revolving door' between Pentagon, industry MORE (R-Ariz.), a holdout over defense spending, announced he would vote "yes," and Sen. Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranBiden has a lot at stake in first debate The Hill's Morning Report — Trump turns the page back to Mueller probe Trump praises Thad Cochran: 'A real senator with incredible values' 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 CorkerTrump says he's 'very happy' some GOP senators have 'gone on to greener pastures' Press: How 'Nervous Nancy' trumped Trump Amash gets standing ovation at first town hall after calling for Trump's impeachment 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 CantwellHillicon Valley: Democratic state AGs sue to block T-Mobile-Sprint merger | House kicks off tech antitrust probe | Maine law shakes up privacy debate | Senators ask McConnell to bring net neutrality to a vote Senators call on McConnell to bring net neutrality rules to a vote Maine shakes up debate with tough internet privacy law 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 LeeSenate GOP to defeat proposal requiring approval for Iran attack Overnight Defense: Trump says he doesn't need exit strategy with Iran | McConnell open to vote on Iran war authorization | Senate panel advances bill to restrict emergency arms sales Senate panel advances bill to restrict emergency arms sales 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 GrahamBooker calls for hearings on reports of ICE using solitary confinement GOP lays debate trap for 2020 Democrats Overnight Defense: Trump says he doesn't need exit strategy with Iran | McConnell open to vote on Iran war authorization | Senate panel advances bill to restrict emergency arms sales MORE (S.C.) and Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyThe Hill's Morning Report - Democratic debates: Miami nice or spice? Overnight Health Care — Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids — Poll finds Trump vulnerable on health care in battleground states | HHS must respond to petition on abortion referral ban by Thursday | Wyden presses health officials about CBD regulations The Hill's 12:30 Report: New revelations from Trump's exclusive sit-down with The Hill 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 SchumerTrump goes after Democrats over photo of drowned migrants Schumer displays photo of drowned migrants on Senate floor in appeal to Trump McConnell-backed Super PAC says nominating Roy Moore would be 'gift wrapping' seat to Dems 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 BlackBottom line Overnight Health Care: Anti-abortion Democrats take heat from party | More states sue Purdue over opioid epidemic | 1 in 4 in poll say high costs led them to skip medical care Lamar Alexander's exit marks end of an era in evolving Tennessee MORE (R-Tenn.) has pushed for $203 billion in deficit reductions from mandatory spending to be included in the final product.