Senate Republicans are expected to adopt their budget proposal later Thursday, marking an important step in the GOP push to overhaul the tax code.
The vote on the Senate Republican budget blueprint, anticipated Thursday night, will come at the end of a blitz of amendment votes Democrats are using to drive home their argument that the GOP tax rewrite will benefit the country's wealthiest citizens at the expense of the middle class.
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"Republicans are going for the big Budget approval today, first step toward massive tax cuts. I think we have the votes, but who knows?" President Donald Trump tweeted Thursday morning.
Senate GOP lawmakers and aides, however, said they were confident they had enough votes to pass their budget. Mr. Trump later said the budget had sufficient support.
Republicans cheered the expected passage of their budget blueprint for fiscal year 2018, whose primary importance is to pave the way for the next step in the GOP effort to rewrite the tax code.
"The only thing about this that matters is preparation for tax reform," Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.), a member of the Senate Budget Committee. "Other than that ... it has no impact on anything whatsoever affecting the American people."
Budget resolutions are nonbinding and don't have to be signed by the president. They are generally a reflection of parties' priorities and are separate from the spending bills that actually fund the government. This year, the budget's biggest role is to unlock a procedural shortcut that will enable Republicans to try to pass a subsequent tax overhaul without Democratic votes. Republicans used a similar process to try to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, but came up short in the Senate.
Republican leaders need only a simple majority to approve the budget in the Senate, where most legislation needs 60 votes to clear procedural hurdles. In the event of a tie, Vice President Mike Pence would cast the deciding vote. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky may be the sole GOP defector on the budget, which he said doesn't do enough to curb federal spending. All Democrats are expected to oppose it.
Democrats are using the flurry of amendment votes offered under the budget process to hammer home their message that the GOP tax proposal isn't aimed at the middle class. Republicans have yet to release tax legislation, but the framework they unveiled last month would sharply reduce tax rates on businesses and many individuals, which the GOP has said will boost economic growth, benefiting middle-income families. The tax plan so far is vague on crucial details for individuals.
Amendments tied to the budget are largely symbolic, but the votes provide early indications of how pivotal senators view tax policy and could vote when the actual tax bill hits the Senate floor.
Democrats brought up amendments forcing Republicans to vote on some of the less popular tax provisions they are currently discussing. For example, an amendment from Democratic Sens. Maria Cantwell of Washington and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland forced a vote on whether to bar a tax rewrite from ending or limiting the federal deduction for state and local taxes. House Republicans are considering abolishing the popular deduction, but may preserve part of it. The Senate blocked the amendment Thursday on a procedural motion in a party-line vote.
Democrats also used amendment votes to highlight that the Senate GOP budget allows for the package of tax changes and rate cuts to add up to $1.5 trillion to the federal budget deficit over 10 years.
"After eight years of crowing about debts and deficits under a Democratic president, the Republican deficit hawks seem to have flown the coop," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said on the Senate floor Thursday.
Republicans countered that they expect their tax cuts to boost economic growth, ultimately creating more revenue flowing to the federal government. Republicans plan to cut tax rates for individuals and businesses, but they haven't filled in many details yet. They say they plan to do that after the House and Senate agree on a budget. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah), chairman of the Finance Committee, said he hoped to release his tax plan by early November.
"Deficits matter and the taxes that we address ought to be about growing the economy that actually do create more revenues toward reducing the deficit," said Sen. Jerry Moran (R., Kan.)
Given Republicans' narrow 52-48 Senate majority, the absence early this week of Sen. Thad Cochran (R., Miss.) created some questions over whether Senate GOP leaders would have enough support to pass the budget. But Mr. Cochran, who had been recovering from health issues in Mississippi, returned to the Senate on Wednesday.
"We've got the walking wounded all coming back to vote," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) said.
Mr. Graham acknowledged that passing sweeping tax legislation will be far challenging than approving a budget. "We're at the bottom of the mountain and we've got to keep climbing to the top," he said.
The House has passed its own, different budget, which will need to be reconciled with the Senate version. White House aides and some Senate Republicans have been urging the House to simply take up the Senate budget and pass it. The two chambers also could hold a quick conference early next week where negotiators hash out a compromise version.
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
October 19, 2017 16:42 ET (20:42 GMT)