WASHINGTON – The Senate marched ahead Tuesday on a compromise Republican budget that calls for future cuts in spending while immediately boosting Pentagon accounts by an additional $38 billion.
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The House approved the non-binding blueprint last week, and a final Senate vote on Tuesday afternoon would complete action. First, the chamber voted 53-44 to move ahead with the House-Senate compromise.
The budget plan does not go to President Barack Obama, who has promised to veto follow-up spending bills that he says will shortchange domestic programs like student aid, transportation grants, and scientific research.
The measure sets up a fast-track debate this summer that would permit Republicans to finally pass legislation to repeal Obama's health care law, though he's certain to veto it. But Republicans have no plans to follow up the budget plan's call for more than $5 trillion in spending cuts with binding legislation that would, for instance, curb Medicare payments to providers, tighten eligibility rules for food stamps, or dump poor and disabled people off of the traditional Medicaid program.
The budget, however, sets up a battle later this year over the 12 annual spending bills setting agency operating budgets. Republicans have skirted budget rules and are trying to award the Pentagon with a 7 percent budget hike while keeping domestic programs frozen at current levels.
Obama and his Democratic allies in the Senate say they will block those budget moves and are calling for a budget summit that would replace immediate and automatic budget cuts known as sequestration with longer-term substitute cuts and revenues from closing tax loopholes. Republican leaders like House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio say tax increases are out of the question.
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Under Washington's arcane budget process, lawmakers first adopt a budget that's essentially a visionary document that sets goals that politicians are often unwilling to pursue. The GOP document also lacks specifics about what programs would be cut, insulating the Senate's large crop of vulnerable incumbents from taking a more politically dangerous vote.
Senate Republicans prevailed in a debate over a Medicare plan championed by House Republicans that would give people joining the system after 2024 a subsidy to purchase health insurance on the open market rather than a guaranteed package of services.