US Senate passes 2016 Budget blueprint, aims to balance spending in 10 years without tax hike

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The Republican-led United States Senate approved a 2016 Budget blueprint early on Friday, one that would balance federal spending in 10 years without raising taxes, trim trillions of spending dollars and repeal "Obamacare".

The process, in which several dozen politically charged amendments were offered, saw Democrats and Republicans stake out their positions ahead of the 2016 presidential election as potential candidates prepare to battle over who will succeed President Barack Obama in the White House.

On Wednesday the House of Representatives approved its own Budget version, a nearly US$3.8 trillion (S$5.2 trillion) plan that eliminates the federal deficit in nine years and slashes US$5.5 trillion in spending over a decade.

Each Republican plan was slimmer than the US$4 trillion wishlist put forward by Mr Obama in February. That one would blow through mandatory spending caps, raise taxes, and spend nearly US$500 billion on improving infrastructure.

After a 15-hour voting session in the Senate, which allows for a freewheeling amendment-offering procedure, lawmakers narrowly approved the measure, 52-46.

The two chambers will gather after an upcoming two-week recess and hammer out a compromise, but a Budget resolution is just a guide and has no power of law.

It mostly lays out a party's priorities, in this case those of the Republicans whose pledge to ease gridlock in Washington has been put to the test since January, when they took control of both chambers of Congress for the first time since 2006.

But this budget laid bare disputes between some of the four Republican senators who are openly considering presidential campaigns.

Two of them offered competing measures on defense.

Senator Marco Rubio called for military spending above the US$96 billion the budget reportedly sought for 2016, without offsets elsewhere. But it failed.

Senator Rand Paul, a fiscal hawk, urged more defense spending but sought spending cuts elsewhere. It, too, was shot down.

All Democrats voted no on the overall budget.

Sen Paul voted no, too, as did Senator Ted Cruz, who announced his presidential candidacy this week.

Republicans introduced fiscally conservative amendments that would cap federal spending, reduce student grants and food stamps and undermine the health care law known as Obamacare.

Democrats, prepping their party's 2016 campaign themes, sought to raise the minimum wage, tighten campaign donor rules, protect funding for Medicare, and provide Social Security and other benefits for gay married couples.

A substantial portion of savings in the Republican budgets comes from benefit programs like Medicaid, and repealing the often-subsidized Obamacare.

While Senate Budget Committee chairman Mike Enzi said lawmakers "need to end our federal overspending to ensure a better future for our country," Democrats blasted the budget as draconian.

"We think it's an awful budget," Senator Sheldon Whitehouse said after the vote. Earlier he called it "fundamentally unfair to the middle class".

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