- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Senate on Thursday was moving toward the final passage of a federal budget for fiscal year 2018, as Republicans look to unlock the process for getting a massive tax deal done without having to bother working with Democrats.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a floor speech that the budget plan, which anticipates about $1 trillion in discretionary spending for 2018, will also ultimately rein in government spending and get things on a path to balance.

“Passing this budget is critical to getting tax reform done, so we can strengthen our economy after years of stagnation under the previous administration,” Mr. McConnell said.

Kicking off what could be a lengthy debate, senators voted down Democratic amendments aimed at short-circuiting the Republican-only process and protecting a key tax break the GOP has put on the chopping block.

The Senate defeated an amendment from Sen. Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Finance Committee, that sought to prevent Republicans from using the reconciliation process for tax reform, which would allow them to bypass a filibuster and pass it with a simple majority.

Senators also voted down a proposal from Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington that sought to preserve the deduction for state and local taxes paid, which is on the chopping block in the GOP’s tax framework.

The Senate did approve an amendment from GOP Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia that dealt with potentially reducing the state and local tax deduction. Democrats and some Republicans from high-tax states have argued that wiping out the deduction entirely could result in a tax hike for many of their middle-to-upper income constituents.

More amendment votes were expected later in a “vote-a-rama,” with the final budget expected to pass late Thursday or early Friday.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, said Democrats planned to limit their amendments to subjects like the deficit, middle class tax cuts, and the state and local tax. The Senate already voted down Democratic amendments on Wednesday dealing with tax cuts for the rich.

“After the amendment votes today, the American people are getting a clearer picture of what the Republican budget and tax plan are about,” Mr. Schumer said.

Even some Republicans supportive of the tax reform effort have been less than enthusiastic about the budget process itself, since the blueprint is non-binding and more discussions on actual appropriations will come down the road.

“This is the biggest hoax [cast] upon the American people ever, that this budget process even exists,” said Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican. “The only thing about this that matters is preparation for tax reform.”

“These amendment votes…everything about this is a hoax,” he said. “It has no impact on anything whatsoever affecting the American people.”

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