The U.S. Senate on Wednesday adopted amendments on Medicare funding and a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule during debate over its proposed 2016 budget resolution, and the House of Representatives passed its own budget plan with a single amendment, adding $2 billion in defense spending.
House lawmakers rejected five proposed amendments to the chamber’s fiscal year 2016 budget, including alternative budgets put forward by progressive and conservative caucuses, before ultimately agreeing to an amendment removing a requirement for offsets to $20 billion in defense spending and adding an additional $2 billion for defense. The amended budget plan passed in a 228-199 vote.
In debate on their budget plan, senators agreed to five proposed amendments, after taking up six amendments on Tuesday. They are expected to finish debate on Thursday, in a process that could run well into the evening.
Among the amendments taken up by senators on Wednesday were measures to pare overlaps in various student loan programs, to provide additional funding for Israel and to protect certain Medicare funding.
Senators also agreed on two measures seeking to clarify the scope of the EPA’s water protection efforts under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, as well as to rein in its contentious definition of “waters of the U.S.,” previously criticized by a number of lawmakers as an overreach of its regulatory authority.
The Senate, however, rejected a broader measure to allow refinancing of federal student loans and an amendment to make it more difficult to pass legislation to privatize Medicare, as well as an amendment establishing climate change as a reality and attributing it to human activity.
Lawmakers also declined to extend the bipartisan budget deal that had applied in fiscal years 2014 and 2015, blocking an amendment that would both override the federal sequester for an additional two years and roll back billions of dollars in defense spending added to the budget plan during committee markup.
Under the House plan, base defense spending had been set at the sequester level cap, with the plan’s authors instead moving to add up to $94 billion in defense funding using Overseas Contingency Operations, or OCO, funds, which fall outside the budget cap.
Several GOP lawmakers, however, balked at plans to make around $20 billion of OCO funding contingent on finding budget offsets elsewhere, arguing that the funding was effectively illusory.
The dispute held up the plan’s passage out of the Budget Committee, before Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga., promised to bring up an amendment to secure that funding, allowing the resolution to move forward. Overall, the House GOP budget plan provides $1.128 trillion in discretionary spending in fiscal year 2016, with close to $3.8 trillion in total spending, including mandatory programs.
The proposal also sets out a long-term plan intended to balance the federal budget by 2024, with about $5.5 trillion in spending cuts over that period across a wide variety of both discretionary and mandatory spending programs, including a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” although defense spending would receive a significant boost.
The Senate plan also proposes to balance the federal budget and bolster defense spending over the long term, but takes a slightly less aggressive approach, hitting a projected surplus by 2025.