The new and improved Trump/McConnell relationship is bearing fruit already.
Mitch McConnell appears to have the Senate GOP humming like a well-oiled machine, pushing Step One of President Trump’s tax overhaul plan to passage.
Senate Republicans powered their budget through Thursday night, adopting a fiscal year 2018 plan that would clear the path to get a massive tax deal done relying only on GOP votes, setting the stage for Republicans next big-ticket agenda item, according to The Washington Times.
The budget passed on a 51-49 vote. While the vote is far from a guarantee of success for tax reform, it’s a crucial first step that GOP leaders had to clear.
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“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,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Already months overdue — the fiscal year began Oct. 1 — the budget calls for about $1 trillion in discretionary spending this year, and envisions deficits of $641 billion.
But even Republicans said those numbers were probably irrelevant, and it will take a bipartisan deal later this year to set actual spending levels for 2018.
Instead, the goal of the budget was to set up what’s known as the “reconciliation” process, which allows big financial measures to pass the Senate by majority vote without having to overcome a filibuster, a critical first step to passing tax reform.
Democrats used reconciliation to push through passage of Obamacare in 2010, and Republicans used it to pass tax cuts in 2001 and 2003. The GOP also tried to harness it for the Obamacare repeal effort earlier this year but were unable to get enough support from within their own ranks.
Throughout the day Thursday, Republicans fended off Democratic efforts to derail the budget or hamper the tax reform push, shunting aside everything from attempts to force more transparency on the tax debate to putting limits on how deeply the GOP could cut taxes.
Democrats said the votes proved Republicans were more interested in a political win on taxes than on getting a good budget bill.
“The American people are getting a clearer picture of what the Republican budget and tax plan are about,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.
But Republicans said Democrats’ complaints about running up the government’s red ink rang hollow.
“When they spend money, they think that’s good — they don’t worry about the deficit,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican and a Budget Committee member. “When we cut taxes, the deficit’s the most important thing.”
Republicans control just 52 votes in the Senate, and Democrats have shown little interest in helping with the direction of the GOP’s tax plans, which involve across-the-board rate reductions, lower corporate tax rates and key tax breaks such as immediate expensing for corporations.
Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee that will be responsible for writing the tax reform, tried to force the GOP toward bipartisanship, offering an amendment Thursday to shut down the fast-track reconciliation process.
“If you start with a partisan markup, where the middle class are deep in the hole, as I have pointed out, it’s very hard to fix that with a lot of tinkering,” he said.
But Republican senators defeated his attempt on a 52-47 vote, saying it was another way to scuttle tax reform.
“What my friend from Oregon is suggesting is that we give a minority in the Senate the opportunity to defeat tax reform by filibuster,” said Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican. “There is nothing about reconciliation that in any way discourages or prevents full Democratic participation.”
Pressure for a win
Still, Mr. Graham said, Republicans are now under pressure to notch a win, particularly in light of the failure of numerous GOP repeal-and-replace efforts for Obamacare during the summer.
“We’ve got the House, the Senate and the presidency,” he said. “We’ve got nobody to blame in this exercise but ourselves.”
But even as Republicans were on the verge of getting their broader budget through the Senate, top leaders expressed doubt that they’ll even have enough time now to pass a full-fledged overhaul of the tax code by the end of the year, which Trump administration officials say remains the preferred deadline.
One top Republican even signaled the tax fight could spill over until after the 2018 midterm election.
The GOP should press forward this year, but they’ll be able to take a “second look” at reforming the tax code in 2019 or 2020, said Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the vice chairman of the Senate GOP conference.
“We don’t have to do everything that could possibly be done to improve the tax code this year to take an important step,” Mr. Blunt said Thursday. “Fights that can’t be won in the next few weeks can be won in this presidential term, but only if we take [this] step successfully right now.”