WASHINGTON — Both chambers of Congress moved forward on budget resolutions this week as GOP-led efforts to reform the federal tax system ramp up.
Members of Vermont’s delegation registered their opposition to the Republican plans, with Sen. Bernie Sanders leading efforts to spotlight what foes describe as a giveaway to the wealthiest Americans at the expense of popular programs.
A report from Senate Democrats asserts the Republican budget resolution would cut $1 trillion from Medicaid over the next decade, $470 billion from Medicare, and erode the budgets of education, housing and health programs.
The resolutions would also trigger an increase in the national deficit of $1.5 trillion over the next decade.
When Congress adjourned Thursday, the Senate Budget Committee had passed the resolution on a party-line vote of 12-11, paving the way for the legislation to go to the floor.
The committee first spent hours debating amendments, many of them brought by members of the minority and ultimately defeated.
In an interview on his way to the Senate floor, Sanders said the amendments serve to highlight aspects of the budget he and his colleagues disagree with.
“What the Republicans are trying to do is very clearly apparent, and I think we’ve made it even more apparent,” said Sanders, I-Vt.
The House passed a budget resolution earlier in the day on a vote of 219-206. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., was among the dissenters.
The budget resolutions, which lay out a fiscal blueprint for the year, are the first step to taking up tax reform — the next major item on congressional Republican leadership’s agenda.
They are key to the chances of tax reform passing in the upper chamber, where Republicans possess a slim majority with 52 seats. Under a procedural measure, the Senate could pass tax reform by a simple majority, rather than the 60-vote threshold that would otherwise be required.
Earlier in the day Thursday senators gathered on either side of a long green-felt-covered table in a marble-walled committee room, ready to face off over the set of priorities outlined in the resolution the budget panel’s Republican leadership released last week.
According to Marcia Howard, executive director of Federal Funds Information for States, the Senate budget resolution would result in a slight decrease in current spending levels, in accordance with the Budget Control Act. The package does not require cutting mandatory spending, so there are “no discernible risks to states,” she said.
Sanders, the Senate Budget Committee’s ranking member, sat at the head of the table next to Chairman Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.
Kicking off the second day of markup on the resolution, Sanders made brief remarks before introducing the first of a slew of proposed amendments.
“This is a budget based on the Robin Hood principle in reverse,” he said.
It’s a line Sanders repeated often this week as Senate Democrats mounted their opposition to the GOP budget proposal, arguing that the Republican-led budget and tax proposal is designed to benefit the wealthiest people, not the middle class as Republicans claim.
The highest-ranking member of the minority on the committee, Sanders has led opposition to the Senate Budget Committee’s proposed resolution. Democrats have argued the Republican budget resolution proposes major cuts to a slew of popular programs over the next decade.
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., argued in rebuttal to Democrats at the committee hearing that it is not yet clear who will or will not benefit from the tax reform package, because the details aren’t ironed out yet.
The purpose of the resolution, Toomey said, is to set the stage for Congress to move forward on reforming the tax code with the goal of sparking an increase in wages and decreasing financial burdens on middle class Americans.
“The goal of this legislation is to enable subsequent tax reform that can restore the economic growth we’ve been waiting so long to enjoy,” Toomey said.