- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Senate on Wednesday turned aside several Democratic budget amendments that sought to offset a boost in entitlement spending with higher taxes, as Republicans speed toward passage of their budget plan to clear the way for their long-sought tax overhaul.

Republicans want to get their 2018 budget blueprint passed this week to fast-track tax reform, while Democrats teed up the process to prod GOP senators on whether they’re willing to simultaneously cut spending on entitlement programs and slash tax rates for the wealthiest Americans.

“Today, we begin the process of shining light on this awful proposal, of telling the truth,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.

The Senate rejected Democratic proposals to boost Medicaid funding by $1 trillion by cutting out tax breaks for the wealthy and to increase Medicare spending by close to $500 billion by closing tax loopholes.

Democrats say the Republican budget framework proposes massive tax cuts for the wealthy at the expense of such programs.

But Republicans say their plan doesn’t constitute a “cut” in entitlement spending in that it assumes a slower rate of spending growth, and that Democrats’ only solution to the country’s long-term fiscal woes is to raise taxes.

“These are not serious proposals,” said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican and Senate Finance Committee chairman. “They are poison pills designed only to give the other side a round of partisan talking points that are really ridiculous.”

On a procedural vote, senators also rejected an amendment from Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent, that sought to prevent any tax bill from cutting taxes for the wealthiest 1 percent in the country, as Democrats work to frame the GOP tax plan as a giveaway to the rich.

The 2018 budget resolution is non-binding, but it’s particularly critical this time around because Republicans need to pass one in order to unlock a fast-track tool that will let them pass their tax package with a simple majority and avert a potential Democratic filibuster. The House passed its budget blueprint earlier this month.

The Senate did approve several Republican-sponsored amendments Wednesday geared toward protecting Medicare and Medicaid and providing tax relief to families and small businesses.

More amendment votes are expected later this week in a potentially lengthy “vote-a-rama” before final passage of the budget. The broader package survived an early test vote Tuesday.

Many Republicans have been dead set on getting tax reform passed by the end of the year, saying it’s particularly critical to notch a significant legislative win ahead of the 2018 midterm elections after their yearlong Obamacare repeal effort flamed out.

But administration officials, and President Trump himself, have signaled this week that lawmakers might blow through the self-imposed deadline.

Appearing on a recent Politico podcast, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin offered an “absolute guarantee” that tax reform would get done this year.

But Mr. Mnuchin said earlier this week on Fox News it will be “extraordinary” if Republicans can follow through on the year-end time frame and that there won’t be an “artificial deadline” for getting it done.

“Our objective is to get it on the president’s desk by December to get him to sign it this year,” he said.

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said this week that tax reform could stretch into next year if the budget process is delayed further.

“If it doesn’t get done this week, there’s still a chance it gets done this year, but more likely it goes over to the beginning of next year,” Mr. Mulvaney told Bloomberg.

Mr. Trump also seemed to push back on a year-end deadline earlier this week, saying there could be “a long way to go” and pointing out that it took President Reagan years to get tax reform through Congress in the 1980s.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has consistently been less bullish on the end-of-year time frame. At one point earlier this year, he said he’d want to get it finished during “this Congress.”

“We’re going to get this job done, and the goal is to get it done by the end of the year,” Mr. McConnell said Monday while standing next to Mr. Trump outside the White House.

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