Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada laid out a $110 billion plan on Thursday to replace the sequester with higher taxes on the wealthy, tax revenue from oil derived from tar sands and spending reductions in agriculture subsidies and defense.
Half the replacement savings would come from the tax increases and half from future spending, including $27.5 billion in reductions in defense spending over the next eight years and $27.5 billion from eliminating direct subsidy payments to farmers.
Reid briefed members of the Democratic Caucus at a Thursday lunch on details of the measure he plans to put on the floor the week of Feb. 25.
The majority leader said a Republican alternative package will also be offered.
The blueprint would avert some $85 billion in automatic, across-the-board spending cuts that are scheduled to begin hitting federal agency budgets on March 1. The additional $25 billion in the Democratic plan would replace additional reductions under sequester through December.
Republicans are adamant that no plan to replace the sequester should include new tax revenue. Republicans, who have adamantly opposed tax increases, strongly opposed Reid’s proposal. “The idea of raising taxes is moving in the wrong direction,” said Sen. Michael D. Crapo of Idaho, ranking member on Banking.
But Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chairwoman of the Budget Committee, said that opposition may diminish as the blunt, across-the-board cuts begin to affect services and government programs.
“You’re talking about today,” she said of the GOP opposition. “We are days away from sequestration going into effect. We’re going to be hearing more and more from businesses who are going to be impacted, from people who are going to be furloughed who won’t be able to pay their mortgages, impacting the housing market again. We’re going to be hearing from our Defense Department, which cannot handle this kind of cut.
“We’re putting forward a responsible plan and Republicans are saying, ‘No, let it take effect,’” Murray said.
The White House threw its support behind the plan, and called on congressional Republicans to “back off their insistence of putting the entire burden of reducing the deficit on the backs of the middle class and seniors.”
House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, meanwhile, said Thursday he was open to developing a sequester replacement measure within coming days if Reid can move the measure he is developing in the Senate. “If they’re willing to pass a bill, we’ll find some way to work with them to address this problem,” he said.
But Boehner also insisted that any measure to replace the sequester also would have to include a plan to balance the budget within 10 years.
And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky made clear what he called “an escape plan aimed at making Republicans look like the bad guys” would not draw support from the GOP. “Remember, this is not a solution. Even they know it can’t pass. That’s the idea. It’s a liberal stunt,” McConnell said.