Friday, March 7, 2014
By ZACHARY A. GOLDFARB AND PAUL KANE/The Washington Post
(Continued from page 1)
In this Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 file photo, President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office building on the White House complex in Washington, to urge Congress to come up with an alternative plan to avert automatic spending cuts set to kick in on March 1, 2013. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said the Obama administration could manage the cuts -- only a small fraction of the federal budget -- without them interfering too much with people's lives.
"There are easy ways to cut this money that the American people will never feel," he said on "Fox News Sunday."
Republican congressional aides noted that the House last year passed bills to replace the sequester with other, less-indiscriminate cuts. "The White House needs to spend less time explaining to the press how bad the sequester will be and more time actually working to stop it," said Michael Steel, a Boehner spokesman.
While there's little hope of avoiding the sequester this week, there will be plenty of political maneuvering. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., are expected by Wednesday to hold votes on dueling pieces of legislation to avert it.
The Democratic plan would delay the sequester until January, replacing the across-the-board cuts with a mix of $110 billion worth of new tax revenue and more-narrowly tailored spending cuts. It includes $54 billion in revenue by ensuring that that most millionaires pay at least 30 percent of their income to the Internal Revenue Service -- something that prompted McConnell to dismiss it immediately as a tax that could not pass.
The Republican plan is still being crafted. Officials said Sunday it might include a provision that would leave the sequester in place but allow more flexibility for agency leaders in imposing the cuts.
Both sides, however, have acknowledged that neither offer is designed to win passage and is instead meant to frame the debate in the coming weeks over how they want their rank and file to defend their position back home. Some of the 55 members of the Democratic caucus may even oppose Reid's plan -- particularly farm-state Democrats, because it cuts agriculture subsidies.
The symbolic votes will be taken as Congress is rapidly shifting focus to a new deadline that will serve as the last stand on the sequester: March 27. That is when the stopgap bill for federal funding expires -- and without a new one, the government will shut down.
Some House Republicans are considering extending government funding through the remainder of the fiscal year -- Sept. 30 -- at the low levels imposed by the sequester.
Another option pursued by GOP lawmakers friendly with the Pentagon would attach a more detailed spending outline for the Defense Department so the cuts would have less of an impact on national security.
Boehner and top aides have said that no decisions have been made on their plan.
Once the House passes a funding resolution, perhaps by early March, the Senate is expected to sit on it for several weeks as the cuts imposed by the sequester begin to play out.
If there's a public outcry, Democrats would renew their push to replace the across-the-board cuts and pass a different government funding bill than the one passed by the House. Such a move would dare Boehner to accept the new bill or risk shutting down the government.
However, Democratic allies realize that there's a chance the sequester's effects will not be felt by March 27 and the public response could be muted. If that happens, the Democrats might agree to a proposal similar to the Republican plan -- keeping the sequester in place but giving the administration more flexibility to manage the cuts.