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Reid Draws a Line on Rolling Back Sequester

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced today that Senate Democrats would not agree to replace mandated spending cuts unless Republicans agree to a “balanced” approach that asks the wealthy to help pay for it.

In a floor speech, Reid derided a House Republican legislative package expected to be approved Thursday that is designed to undo the spending cuts that were triggered last fall when the super committee failed to agree on a $1.2 trillion deficit reduction plan. The mandatory cuts are slated to take effect in January 2013. Reid said that “efforts are under way [in the House] to undo a hard-fought August agreement” to reduce the deficit as part of the deal to raise the debt ceiling.

Currently the law requires $1.2 trillion in cuts, including a $600 billion reduction in defense spending, which would take place over 10 years.

Reid said the so-called sequester “is far from ideal” but that it was intended to force both parties to reach a compromise on deficit reduction.

“Those cuts were designed to be tough enough to force lawmakers to compromise. They were designed to be tough enough to force the two sides to reach to a balanced deal,” Reid said. “But Republicans refused to be reasonable. They refused to raise even a penny of new revenue, or ask millionaires to contribute their fair share to help reduce our deficit and our debt.”

But Republicans, who believe the Pentagon cannot absorb the cuts without compromising national security, want to replace the $109 billion in defense cuts set to begin next year under the sequester. They would do so by cutting $261 billion over the next decade, including cuts to a raft of programs to help the poor and elderly, as well as by rolling back provisions in the Democrats’ signature health care reform law and raising pension contribution requirements for federal workers.

President Barack Obama has indicated he would veto any efforts to change the sequester, and Reid today underscored Democrats’ feelings on the House reconciliation bill, which is in line with the Republican budget that also called for reducing spending below the levels set forth in the August debt deal.

“The Republican budget and their so-called reconciliation bill don’t just renege on that bipartisan, bicameral agreement to reduce spending,” Reid said. “They reflect fundamentally skewed priorities.

“They hand out even more tax breaks to multi-millionaires and shield corporate defense contractors, all at the expense of hard-working, middle-class families, the elderly and those in greatest need,” Reid continued.

Speaker John Boehner took to Twitter in response and directed his comments to Reid’s twitter account: “@SenatorReid Obama [administration] says sequester would hollow out armed forces. House has better plan [with] sensible cuts we can all support.”

On Thursday, the House is expected to pass the package, which consists of two bills. But with action on the measure by the Senate unlikely, the House debate is expected be a preview of the parties’ talking points for the end-of-year battle over how — or whether — to undo the sequester.

The package was approved Monday by the House Budget Committee on party line votes.

House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan said during that meeting that the sequester cuts, agreed to in a deal to increase the debt ceiling last year, are inflexible and arbitrary.

“Despite our differences, we again find ourselves in strong bipartisan agreement that the sequester is bad policy and ought to be replaced,” the Wisconsin Republican said. “That’s why this committee and this House passed a responsible budget and why we’re here today to meet our legal and moral obligation to lead.”

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