Senate Democrats on Wednesday tried to strike proposed Republican cuts to health programs for the poor and elderly from a budget blueprint, seeking to inflict political pain as the Senate moves ahead on a $4 trillion budget that's a crucial step in the GOP's drive to rewrite the tax code.
Democrats want to eliminate provisions from the GOP budget that would cut Medicare by almost $500 billion over the coming decade and slash the Medicaid health program for the poor by twice as much. Another Democratic amendment would try to block Republican plans to add the 10-year, $1.5 trillion tax cut to the nation's $20 trillion debt. Votes are expected Wednesday afternoon.
"Do you want to cut Medicaid or not, yes or no? Do you want to cut Medicare or not, yes or no?" said top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York. "Do you want to vote for a $1.5 trillion deficit or not, yes or no?"
Republicans controlling the Senate, on track to pass the budget measure later this week, are likely to reject the Democratic moves. They easily prevailed on a procedural vote on Tuesday and only Rand Paul, R-Ky., has said he'll oppose the measure.
At issue is a non-binding budget plan that proposes, in theory, a set of significant changes to the nation's fiscal trajectory, including significant cuts to health care programs for the poor, a slew of unspecified cuts to other programs, and maintaining tight spending restraints on annual operating budgets for the Pentagon and domestic Cabinet departments. Republicans, however, have no plans to actually impose those cuts with follow-up legislation.
"The majority party in the Senate has been focused on the debt and the deficit and the dangers of debt to our country, to our economy, and how bad it was that we were mortgaging our children's future," said Sen. Angus King, I-Maine. "And all of a sudden it's no big deal. All of a sudden it's OK."
Instead, the driving purpose of the measure is to take advantage of Washington's arcane budget rules to set up a filibuster-proof debate later this year on rewriting the tax code. It would permit lawmakers to use $1.5 trillion in debt-financed tax cuts to ease passage of a follow-up plan to sharply reduce corporate rates, cut taxes for most individuals, and slash taxes on business partnerships such as law firms, medical practices, and accounting firms.
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"The fact is, most of the rest of the world has been about the business of improving their tax code while we have not," said Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa. "This is our moment, our opportunity to catch up, and we could do it in a big way as long as we pass this budget."
The budget measure also would revive long-moribund efforts to permit drilling for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a longstanding goal of Senate Energy Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.