GOP

By Jonathan Weisman
March 27, 2015

WASHINGTON — Emerging from an all-night session that contained more exhaustion than drama, Senate Republicans squeaked through a budget blueprint Friday morning that would repeal the Affordable Care Act, fundamentally remake federal health care for the poor and elderly, and push the federal deficit toward zero over the next decade.

The 52-46 vote came at 3:28 a.m., after the Senate considered hundreds of amendments and voted on dozens — many of them politically freighted, some of them contradictory, but none of them binding. No Democrats voted for the budget. Among Republicans, only Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who is likely to seek the White House, and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who has announced his intention to do so, voted no.

Senator Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming, chairman of the Budget Committee, hailed a plan that he said would “protect the nation’s most vulnerable citizens, strengthen national defense and bring robust economic growth.”

Democrats said it would be a disaster — if it ever happened.

The House passed its budget plan on Wednesday. Now, Senate and House negotiators hope to take similar tax-and-spending plans and negotiate the first common congressional budget in a decade.

Then would come the difficult work, turning a hard-fought, aspirational document into the actual legislation the budget promises: an end to the Affordable Care Act; a Medicare system transformed, with vouchers for older adults to purchase private insurance; Medicaid and food stamps cut back drastically and turned over to the states; and a simplified tax code with a far lower top income tax rate.

“Fortunately for the country, the Republican budget will not become law,” Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the minority leader, said.

Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, who as the House Ways and Means chairman will have his hand in much of the legislative effort, took a measured, step-by-step approach to the task. He said a series of legislative deadlines would guide Congress more than the budget’s prescriptions.

The expiration of the highway trust fund on May 31 will be the first order of business. President Obama and lawmakers in both parties have proposed a novel way of funding a major infrastructure effort: mandate the repatriation of hundreds of billions in corporate profits stashed overseas, then tax it at a special low rate, with the proceeds dedicated to roads, bridges, transit and airports.

But Mr. Ryan and the president want that initiative to be part of a much broader overhaul of the business tax code that would lower the corporate tax rate and close loopholes. The Senate on Thursday night approved an advisory amendment from the chairman of the Finance Committee, Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, and its ranking Democrat, Ron Wyden of Oregon, ordering up just such an overhaul by voice vote.

Mr. Ryan said conversations had already begun about a short-term highway trust fund extension as both chambers try to build momentum for a rewrite of the business tax code.

The next deadline is likely to come in late June, when the Supreme Court decides whether residents of states that use the federal insurance marketplace HealthCare.gov have wrongfully been given subsidies to purchase insurance.

If the justices side with the plaintiffs against the Obama administration, they will have done far more to dismantle the Affordable Care Act than the House and Senate budgets. The documents mandate its repeal and include expedited parliamentary rules, called reconciliation, that ensure that legislation to repeal cannot be filibustered in the Senate.

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