US Senate Commences 2016 Budget Amendment Process

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate agreed to amendments protecting certain Medicaid funding and seeking to promote equal pay for women, while rejecting a bid to fund infrastructure improvements through closing purported tax loopholes, as senators kicked off their markup of the proposed 2016 federal budget.

After formally beginning debate on the proposed budget resolution on Monday, senators took their first votes on proposed amendments Tuesday, including funding proposals on equal pay, Medicaid, Social Security, infrastructure and veterans’ health care.

Among the 10 amendments considered by the Senate on Tuesday, senators agreed to six, easily passing measures to establish a series of “budget neutral” reserve funds, including two funds intended to increase mental and physical health care options for military veterans, a fund to help strengthen Social Security, and another pair of funds meant to protect benefits for Medicaid-eligible children with “medically complex” issues and certain other Medicaid beneficiaries seen as particularly vulnerable, including seniors and the disabled.

The Senate, however, rejected an accompanying measure proposed by Sen. Barb Mikulski, D-Md., that would block employers from using “any reason” to pay women less for the same work, criticized by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., as “corrosive” and too prescriptive to be included in a budget bill.

Lawmakers also blocked a more extensive Democratic amendment on Social Security funding, as well as a proposal by Budget Committee ranking member Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to provide billions of dollars in extra funding for infrastructure, intended to be offset by closing purported loopholes in the corporate tax code.

An amendment meant to represent President Barack Obama’s proposed budget, released earlier in the year, was further rejected by lawmakers from both parties after being brought up for a symbolic vote by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, with Sanders complaining that the measure did not accurately reflect the president’s budget.

The markup is expected to continue over the next several days in both the Senate and the House of Representatives — which kicked off debate on its own proposed budget Tuesday, but has yet to consider any amendments on the House floor — expected to cap the process off with potentially dozens of votes on proposed amendments in each chamber on Thursday.

The proposals vary on several details, but — in keeping with proposed budget plans put forward by the House GOP majority in recent years — each calls for trillions of dollars in spending cuts to both discretionary and mandatory spending over the “out-years” beyond fiscal 2016, seeking to balance the federal budget by either 2024 or 2025 without raising taxes. The notable exception to each chamber’s proposed budget reductions is defense spending, which could actually see a significant boost under either plan.