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Senate GOP Divided on Sequester Alternative

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Republicans have floated a plan that would allow the administration to distribute the sequester’s scheduled spending cuts. But McConnell, above, said he feared giving the White House such power.

But some Republicans question any idea of handing more power to the White House at the expense of congressional appropriators and authorizing committees. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he prefers “regular order.” And Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, a member of the Budget Committee, said she has doubts about letting Obama tailor cuts as he see fit.

The GOP reservations are shared by some Democrats, including Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin of Michigan and Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland. “Congress should not be handing the power of the purse to the executive branch,” Levin said.

Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, said a provision giving the Pentagon and other agencies more leeway to deal with cuts could be part of the next continuing resolution. The current stopgap fiscal 2013 spending bill (PL 112-178) expires March 27.

“Legally and technically, I guess it is possible, but it is not what we’re planning to do,” said House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke urged senators to replace “sharp, frontloaded spending cuts” with a plan to reduce the budget deficit “more gradually in the near term but more substantially in the longer run.” During a Tuesday hearing, he said legislation allowing agency flexibility could permit “more efficient allocation of the cuts” but that the cuts could still harm the economy.

Ben Weyl, Sarah Chacko, Emily Holden and Kerry Young contributed to this report.

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