Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid criticized the House on Tuesday for not moving a sequester replacement plan as the onset of the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts nears and lawmakers say the likelihood of congressional action before the March 1 deadline diminishes.
Reid prepared to introduce a $120 billion Democratic plan that would set aside the automatic spending cuts through the end of this year and complained that House Republicans were not planning a “more sensible approach” than they have offered before.
“So they’re going to do nothing,” the Nevada Democrat said. “Senate Democrats will offer our own solution to the sequester later this week. If Republicans truly agree that these across-the-board cuts would be damaging to our economy, to national security, they should work to help us pass an alternative.”
The criticism was part of the finger-pointing across the aisle that has increased in Congress as the legislative days count down to the March 1 start of the sequester, with only faint signs of compromise.
Reid said Tuesday that he planned to meet and discuss the sequester with House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, later this week, although he did not describe details of that meeting.
But there is a growing belief among many lawmakers that the impact of the automatic cuts won’t be felt right away, particularly because the Office of Management and Budget has said federal workers will be given 30 days’ notice before furloughs that may result from sequester.
“I think what’s going to happen is the sequester will take effect, and then the serious negotiations will probably start,” said Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas.
As a result, both sides are making clear that they expect negotiations to continue well into March, with the hope of reaching a compromise by the end of that month.
Kevin Smith, a spokesman for Boehner, said House Republicans previously passed an alternative menu of spending cuts in the 112th Congress and so the onus is now on Democrats to come up with their own plan that the GOP could support.
“Republicans have twice passed bills to replace the president’s sequester with better spending cuts and reforms. Our position is well-known. It’s long past time for the president and Senate Democrats to pass a plan of their own,” Smith said.
Lining Up Plans
Reid has not yet revealed his floor strategy. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., his chief deputy whip, said the majority leader may opt to allow votes on sequester replacement plans during the week of Feb. 25. They would include his own draft $120 billion plan that mixes alternative spending cuts and tax increases through eliminating some corporate tax breaks.
Reid said his the offset for his plan would include “equal amounts of revenue and cuts,” but liberals in the Democratic Caucus would gain all the offsetting revenue from ending the targeted tax breaks also known as tax expenditures.
“Progressives feel, while we are still getting out of recession, that we could do this just with these loophole closers and not hurt anybody,” Boxer said. “You don’t have to lose jobs as you reduce the deficit.”
Boxer said Reid also may allow a vote on a measure similar to the GOP’s package of alternative spending cuts that passed the House, 215-209, on Dec. 20.
Reid has been working with three committee chairmen — Max Baucus of Montana on Finance, Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland on Appropriations and Patty Murray of Washington on Budget — to develop a plan to avert the spending cuts through Sept. 30, and also avoid additional cuts through the end of December.
While Democrats debate Reid’s plan for both spending and tax revenues and a proposal by liberals to offset the sequester only by ending some tax breaks, Senate Republicans are expressing dissatisfaction with both proposals — as well as doubt about the House GOP plan from the last Congress.
Cornyn said he doubted he would support any of the three proposals if Reid put them on the floor, because, he said, all of them would replace immediate spending cuts with offsets financed over the next decade.
“The offset has to happen the same year that the sequester is delayed,” he said.
Cornyn said he would favor “reordering the sequester so that it’s not strictly across the board,” such as Sen. James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., recently suggested with a measure that would have given the Pentagon flexibility to deal with spending cuts.
Although Republicans oppose the use of tax hikes to replace automatic cuts, liberal Democrats such as Boxer are pushing for a sequester replacement plan based entirely on revenue from closing what they consider corporate tax loopholes.
Reid expressed general support for the initiative led by liberal Democrats Carl Levin of Michigan and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island that would end some corporate breaks to offset the sequester, but made clear that he planned to combine that with spending cuts. “We could easily avert these cuts by ending wasteful tax breaks for corporations, giveaways to companies that ship jobs overseas,” Reid said. “A balanced approach would prevent the damage of the so-called sequester.”