WASHINGTON - With a vote of 51 to 49, Republicans in the U.S. Senate have approved a $4 trillion budget that could pave the way for U.S. President Donald Trump’s plan for what he has called “massive tax cuts and reform.”
Senate Republicans were under pressure to approve the tax cut measure before next year’s midterm elections, after failing to pass a Trump-supported effort to dismantle the nation’s health care law, commonly known as Obamacare.
The White House hailed the bill’s passage, saying it “creates a pathway to unleash the potential of the American economy through tax reform and tax cuts.”
Divisions within the GOP indicate the process won’t be easy despite the political imperative.
Rand Paul of Kentucky was the only Republican to vote against the bill. He said the measure was too expensive and abandoned the Republican Party’s goal of repealing Obamacare.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “Tonight we completed the first step toward replacing our broken tax code by passing a comprehensive fiscally responsible budget that will help put the federal government on a path to balance.”
The bill could add up to $1.5 trillion to the federal deficit over the next decade to pay for the tax cuts.
“These are reforms that change incentives and drive growth and we’ve never done that before,” said Republican Senator Pat Toomey from Pennsylvania.
When reconciled with the House budget plan, the nonbinding measure would set up special procedures to pass follow-up tax legislation without the threat of a filibuster by Senate Democrats. Pressure is mounting, however, on the House to simply adopt the Senate budget plan rather than risk lengthy negotiations that could delay the tax measure.
The House measure calls for a tax plan that wouldn’t add to the deficit, as well as $200 billion worth of cuts to benefit programs that the Senate has rejected.
Democrats have slammed the bill, saying it benefits only affluent individuals and wealthy corporations and businesses.
Former presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders said, “ Mr. President, this is not a bad budget bill, it is a horrific budget bill and extremely cruel bill and the most unfair budget ever presented in the modern history of our country.”
Sanders said the budget cuts Medicaid, the federal program that pays medical costs for the poor and disabled, by $1 trillion and that 15 million Americans could lose their health insurance.
“Unfortunately, there’s a big gap between the administration’s rhetoric on these issues and the reality of what is on paper,” said Senator Ron Wyden from Oregon. Wyden, who is the top Democrat on the tax-writing Finance Committee, said the bill is “slanted overwhelmingly toward the very top.”
Under Capitol Hill’s byzantine budget rules, the nonbinding budget resolution is supposed to lay out a long-term fiscal framework for the government.
This year’s measure calls for $473 billion in cuts from Medicare over 10 years and more than $1 trillion from Medicaid. All told, Senate Republicans would cut spending by more than $5 trillion over a decade, though they don’t spell out where the cuts would come from.
Even so, the measure doesn’t promise to balance the budget, projecting deficits that would never drop below $400 billion.
And Republicans have no plans to carry out the measure’s politically toxic proposals to cut Medicare, food and farm programs, housing subsidies and transportation. Instead, work is under way to add tens of billions of dollars for both the Pentagon and domestic agency operations. And the Senate is poised to send Trump a $36.5 billion hurricane relief bill Monday.
Republicans vow that the tax plan would result in a burst of economic growth that will add enough tax revenue to make up for the ambitious rate cuts.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.