Senate Passes GOP Budget After Late-Night Debate

03/27/2015 03:33 am ET | Updated Mar 27, 2015
Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- The Senate early Friday passed a Republican budget plan that would cut spending by $5.1 trillion over 10 years, raise military funding and repeal Obamacare.

The non-binding budget, debated all week and passed 52-46 during a 15-hour marathon session before the Easter recess, gives Republicans another crack at repealing the Affordable Care Act, probably through a process known as reconciliation, and increases defense spending while slashing funds in other areas, including education and health care. The House passed a similar spending plan Wednesday.

An aide to Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) said they were cautiously optimistic the budget would pass in the final hours leading up to the 3:30 a.m. vote. Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) broke party lines and voted against it. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) voted for it.

"I believe the work we’ve done this week to boost our nation’s economy, support our national defense and expand opportunity for hardworking families is truly work worth doing," Enzi said on the floor immediately following the vote. He noted that it's the first budget plan passed by a GOP-controlled Senate since 2006.

The budget provides extra money for the military through the Overseas Contingency Operations fund, adding $38 billion to $58 billion already allotted. The defense money isn't subject to automatic sequestration budget caps and, in effect, would bring the Pentagon’s budget to $612 billion.

But the budget does nothing to boost non-defense programs, slashing spending for Medicaid, education and health care -- a main Democratic complaint.

The budget is a spending framework for the appropriations process, not a law, so it doesn't face a direct veto threat from President Barack Obama. Lawmakers spent much of Thursday evening voting on budget amendments, capitalizing on the exercise to put their principles on display, with some eyeing the 2016 presidential election. They voted on 60 amendments in all, with 44 considered during the session from Thursday afternoon into early Friday.

Through the pageantry, and attempts by each party to force the other to take hard votes, final passage of the budget gave a boost to Republicans looking to successfully unite behind the first spending plan of their new Senate majority.

To some senators, however, the days spent on a GOP budget and amendments that will not become law was simply a waste of time.

“They are on record, but when you have only one minute on each side it’s not exactly an in-depth examination of the issue,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said. “Actually, the whole thing is stupid.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) shared his sentiment, venting that the amendments put forward during the budget process are “vague, often misleading, and just used for political purposes.”

“It's my least-favorite day of the year," she said. "Because it's worthless. It has no weight of law.”

Some senators who offered amendments appear to have 2016 ambitions in mind. Likely Republican presidential candidates Rubio and Paul put forward dueling measures that tried to substantially increase defense spending.

Rubio’s offered no corresponding cuts to offset pumped-up military funding, and Paul’s increased the Pentagon’s budget by cutting billions from a variety of other accounts.

Cruz, who declared his presidential candidacy earlier this week, sided with Rubio at the last minute. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) stuck by Paul, his fellow Kentuckian.

To others, like Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), voting on a budget is like America’s favorite pastime.

“It's like baseball to the extent to which there's no time limit,” Markey said. “I think members learn a lot.”

Senators took votes on contentious issues ranging from carbon taxes on industrial sources to Iran sanctions. They unanimously expanded workplace rights for pregnant women and voted 55-41 to allow Social Security benefits for same-sex couples in states without gay marriage.

In a surprise move, senators voted 61-39 to pass an amendment that expands access to paid sick leave, put forward by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). Cruz, Rubio and Paul all voted against it.

"It will expand access to paid sick days and give our families some really much-needed economic stability," Murray said on the Senate floor.

In the end, the budget leaves the Senate with a good amount of unfinished business.

McConnell touted the vote as a chance for the American people to “have their voices heard again in a Senate under new management.”

Senate and House conferees will now try to iron out differences in each chamber's proposed budget. Then starts the real work -- the appropriations process that actually funds specific programs.

Democrats said they're betting problems will arise during that conference and appropriations process.

“There is one minimum requirement we all have -- two,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “We don’t want to stay at sequestration levels, and we want increases to be at 50-50 -- for every dollar of defense there is a dollar of non-defense.”

Schumer said it will be up to Republicans whether there's another standoff over sequestration cuts, which are set to resume in the fall.

“Their hard right, which just went through a [Department of Homeland Security] fight where they kept walking into a wall, isn’t tamed and I have a feeling they will end up doing the same thing when we get into the appropriations process,” Schumer said.

Adding to the pressure is Obama, who said in an interview last week with The Huffington Post that he would not sign a spending bill that doesn’t fix sequestration.

This article has been updated to include Enzi's comment.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story indicated Murray's amendment passed with a vote of 59-41. In fact, it passed 61-39. It also indicated an amendment on workplace rights for pregnant women passed 100-1. The vote was 100-0.

Jennifer Bendery contributed reporting.

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