Sequester Looms As Rival Proposals Fail In Senate

By Edward Donga
BU News Service

WASHINGTON – On back to back procedural votes, the Senate Thursday blocked two proposals that would have averted the so-called sequester, all but ensuring that the automatic, across-the-board federal budget cuts will go into effect Friday as scheduled.

By a margin of 62-38, the Senate rejected a motion to take up a Republican-sponsored plan that would have given President Obama the authority to redistribute the $85 billion in cuts, which are split evenly between defense and non-defense spending.

A motion to proceed to debate on a Democratic alternative designed to head off sequestration fared somewhat better – garnering a bare 51-49 majority, nine votes short of the 60 vote supermajority needed to invoke cloture on the measure. The tally was 52-48 until Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., switched his vote to “no” at the last minute – a parliamentary maneuver that enables him to bring up the proposal again at a later date.

The Democratic plan would have replaced the reductions from sequestration with a mix of spending cuts and revenue increases, including the so-called Buffet rule – named for billionaire Warren Buffet – that would require millionaires to pay at least a 30 percent tax rate. But Republicans have resisted Democratic calls for further tax increases since agreeing to a $600 billion tax hike for the wealthiest taxpayers in January.

A third proposal sponsored by Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., was denied a vote by Senate leadership hours before the two votes took place. The proposal would have replaced the sequester with a number of spending cuts and tax reforms, ranging from a pay freeze for members of Congress and an end to unemployment compensation for millionaires to cracking down on abuse of the child tax credit.

Ayotte voted against cloture on both the Democratic and Republican sequestration alternatives, as did Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

“I firmly believe that we should have a vote today on every proposal, and I think anything less is a disservice to the American people, who are demanding that we start governing. It is time for us to pass a budget to prioritize spending,” Ayotte said in a statement.

In a statement afterward, Collins said: “Today, we were presented with two plans—neither of which faces reality. Neither seriously addresses the harmful impact of these severe cuts nor do they begin to forge a realistic path toward reining in our unsustainable debt.”

Collins announced she is introducing legislation to allow departments and agencies to propose alternative cost savings to the sequestration cuts, subject to approval by the House and Senate Appropriations committees.

In addition, “I am talking with colleagues on both sides of the aisle and with the White House on how we could produce a sound, long-term fiscal plan to replace the indiscriminate cuts of sequestration,” said Collins, one of the few Republican moderates remaining on Capitol Hill.

Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Angus King, I-Maine, voted against the motion to take up the Republican plan, but for the motion to consider the Democratic proposal.

“I share the public’s frustration that we were unable to come together to find bipartisan agreement to avoid these indiscriminate cuts,” Shaheen said in a statement after the votes. “We need to address our deficit and rein in our spending, but the blind cuts of sequestration are not the right approach.”

Earlier this month Collins and Shaheen sent a letter to the Senate Republican and Democratic leadership urging them to devise a bipartisan plan that would avoid the sequester, noting the serious effects the defense cuts would have on their state, particularly at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and surrounding industries.

“These self-inflicted wounds must stop,” Shaheen declared Thursday. “This is no way to run a government and we must do better.”

Added Collins: “”I was home in Maine last week and the two questions that nearly everyone I saw asked was, “What is wrong with Washington? Why can’t you just work together?

Related: View White House Document Outlining Impact On Massachusetts

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