Washington, D.C. –The Senate early Friday passed a Republican budget plan that would cut spending by $5.1 trillion over 10 years, raise military funding and repeal Obamacare.
The non-binding budget, debated all week and passed 52-46 during a 15-hour marathon session before the Easter recess, gives Republicans another crack at repealing the Affordable Care Act, probably through a process known as reconciliation, and increases defense spending while slashing funds in other areas, including education and health care. The House passed a similar spending plan Wednesday.
The Senate was beginning a spring recess after approving the measure, leaving Congress’ two GOP-run chambers to negotiate a compromise budget in mid-April. The legislation is a non-binding blueprint that does not require Obama’s signature but lays the groundwork for future bills that seem destined for veto fights with the president.
The budget’s solidly ideological tenor contrasted with a bipartisan bill the House overwhelmingly approved Thursday permanently blocking perennial cuts in physicians’ Medicare fees. It too will wait until April for final congressional approval by the Senate, with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., saying his chamber will handle it “very quickly when we get back.
On the budget, only two Republicans voted no: Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, a pair of presidential contenders. Two other potential GOP presidential candidates, Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, voted yes.
All voting Democrats were opposed.
The Senate completed its budget work while enduring one of its more painful traditions: A multi-hour “vote-a-rama” in which senators repeatedly debate and vote on a pile of non-binding amendments well past midnight.
Senators offer the amendments because the votes can demonstrate support for a policy or be used to embarrass opponents in future campaigns.
Those approved included one by Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, entitling married same-sex couples to Social Security and veterans’ spousal benefits. It got 11 GOP votes, including from several Republicans facing competitive re-elections next year.
The budget provides extra money for the military through the Overseas Contingency Operations fund, adding $38 billion to $58 billion already allotted. The defense money isn’t subject to automatic sequestration budget caps and, in effect, would bring the Pentagon’s budget to $612 billion.
But the budget does nothing to boost non-defense programs, slashing spending for Medicaid, education and health care — a main Democratic complaint.
The budget is a spending framework for the appropriations process, not a law, so it doesn’t face a direct veto threat from President Barack Obama. Lawmakers spent much of Thursday evening voting on budget amendments, capitalizing on the exercise to put their principles on display, with some eyeing the 2016 presidential election. They voted on 60 amendments in all, with 44 considered during the session from Thursday afternoon into early Friday.
Through the pageantry, and attempts by each party to force the other to take hard votes, final passage of the budget gave a boost to Republicans looking to successfully unite behind the first spending plan of their new Senate majority.
To some senators, however, the days spent on a GOP budget and amendments that will not become law was simply a waste of time.
“They are on record, but when you have only one minute on each side it’s not exactly an in-depth examination of the issue,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said. “Actually, the whole thing is stupid.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) shared his sentiment, venting that the amendments put forward during the budget process are “vague, often misleading, and just used for political purposes.”
“It’s my least-favorite day of the year,” she said. “Because it’s worthless. It has no weight of law.”
Some senators who offered amendments appear to have 2016 ambitions in mind. Likely Republican presidential candidates Rubio and Paul put forward dueling measures that tried to substantially increase defense spending.
Rubio’s offered no corresponding cuts to offset pumped-up military funding, and Paul’s increased the Pentagon’s budget by cutting billions from a variety of other accounts.