Senate panel advances budget, a key step for tax reform

The Senate Budget Committee on Thursday advanced a budget resolution that would help pave the way for Republicans to pass a tax reform bill without Democratic support.

The resolution passed 12-11 along strict party lines and is expected to be taken up on the Senate floor in two weeks. The Senate is not in session next week.

Though the budget ostensibly lays out spending plans for the fiscal year, the budget document’s central purpose, as reflected by the committee’s debate, was to open the reconciliation process for tax reform, which will allow Republicans to avoid a Democratic filibuster. 

The resolution will allow the tax plan to add up to $1.5 trillion to the deficit over the course of a decade.

“Our nation needs a simpler, fairer, and more transparent tax system that will leave more dollars in the pockets of working families,” said committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.). “This budget will put in motion a process for pro-growth reform that will cut taxes on American families and job creators by a net $1.5 trillion over 10 years.”

The resolution keeps overall spending levels steady from 2017, unlike its counterpart in the House, which cuts nondefense spending by $5 billion and increases defense spending by $72 billion. 

The House version, which passed on the House floor earlier in the day, did not include the $1.5 trillion in deficit allowances. Instead, it demanded $203 billion in deficit reduction from various committees, expected in the form of cuts to programs such as nutritional assistance, education and welfare. 

The differences between the two versions of the budget will have to be worked out in a conference committee before tax reform can proceed. Without any major legislative victories to date, Republicans are eager to move ahead.

As far as spending, Congress extended 2017 funding levels into the first three months of the fiscal year, which began on Sunday. The funding will continue until Dec. 8, by which point Democrats and Republicans will have to agree to a new spending deal. Failure to act would lead to a government shutdown.  

Much of the Senate panel's debate Thursday centered on the tax reform plan, as well as budget provisions that would see cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. 

“This Republican budget is, in my view, is the most unfair and destructive budget in American history,” said ranking member Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). 

The budget resolution includes a path to balance over the course of a decade, which includes $473 billion in cuts from Medicare’s current spending path over a decade and about $1 trillion from Medicare over the same period.

“In order to pay for these huge tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, this Republican budget makes savage cuts to the life-and-death programs that mean so much to ordinary Americans,” Sanders added.

The resolution does not carry force of law, however, something Enzi frequently pointed out. Its passage would not enact cuts, nor provide instructions in the reconciliation to carry them out.

Democrats were also unsuccessful in defeating a provision on Congressional Budget Office scores. The budget scraps a recent rule requiring at least 28 hours between a CBO score and a vote on legislation that originated in committee.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wi.), who had pushed for the reconciliation instructions to also pave the way for another attempt to repeal Obamacare, chose not to introduce an amendment of that nature in the end.

Source: The Hill