WASHINGTON (AP) – The Senate on Tuesday adopted a Republican budget that paves the way for an assault on President Barack Obama’s signature health care law this summer and a partisan showdown over spending bills this fall.
The Senate passed the nonbinding measure by a nearly party-line 51-48 vote. The House adopted it last week.
Under Washington’s budget process, lawmakers first adopt a budget that’s essentially a visionary document that sets goals that politicians are often unwilling to pursue. The Republican document also lacks specifics about which programs would be cut, insulating the Senate’s large crop of vulnerable incumbents from taking a more politically dangerous vote.
The measure sets a potential path for a balanced budget within a decade. It promises to cut domestic agencies and safety net programs like Medicaid and food stamps, carve up transportation spending and student aid, and curb tax breaks for the poor.
Republicans don’t plan to adhere to most of its cuts in follow-up legislation, however. And in the near term the Republican plan promises a $38 billion, 7 percent increase for the Pentagon that is possible only by padding war accounts.
Republicans and many economists say balancing the budget helps the economy in the long run and say it’s better to tackle the long-term financial problems of programs like Medicare and Medicaid sooner rather than later. They also promise to relieve the burden of debt that’s being passed on to future generations.
The budget plan does not go to Obama, who has promised to veto follow-up spending bills that he says will shortchange domestic programs like student aid, highway construction and scientific research.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest disparaged the budget plan for increasing money for defense but not for non-defense domestic programs.
In the wake of racial tensions involving police and low-income communities, Earnest specifically argued the Republican plan would jeopardize programs that provide criminal justice assistance to state and local governments.
“Republicans have started talking the talk about issues like inequality and criminal justice reform, but their budget shows they are not walking the walk,” Earnest said.
The measure pleases the Republican faithful by setting up a debate this summer that would permit Republicans to finally pass legislation to repeal Obama’s health care law. That’s because Senate Democrats would be unable to filibuster the repeal bill under fast-track budget rules. However, Obama is certain to veto it.
But Republicans have no plans to follow up the budget document’s call for other spending cuts with binding legislation that would, for instance, curb Medicare payments to providers, tighten eligibility rules for food stamps, or dump poor and disabled people off the traditional Medicaid program.
Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, both presidential contenders, were the only Republicans who voted against the blueprint. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, also seeking the White House, voted in its favor, as did Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a potential presidential candidate. All Democrats voted in opposition.
Democrats blasted the measure for getting the bulk of its savings from cuts to programs that help the poor and middle class while leaving tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy, including a proposal to eliminate taxes on multimillion-dollar inheritances.
“This is an absolute disaster for the working families of this country,” said liberal Independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who’s running for the Democratic presidential nomination. “In fact, one of the problems that I have had in describing the Republican budget is that it is so bad … that people don’t even really believe you when you talk about what is in this budget.”