By Ramsey Cox
Senate leaders exchanged fire on Thursday morning ahead of dueling votes on plans to alter the looming $85 billion cut from sequestration.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) compared the GOP sequestration plan, which would give President Obama more discretion over the cuts, to having “three fingers cut off.”
“The Republican plan is like being told you have to have three fingers cut off and sending a plan to the president letting him decide which finger goes first,” Reid said. “It’s not a solution, and even some in their caucus have questioned the plan.”
“Not only would their legislation fail to fix the spending problem facing our country, it would actually add billions more to the deficit,” McConnell (R-Ky.) said. “In other words, it isn’t a plan at all. It’s a gimmick.”
Neither the Democratic nor the Republican sequester bill is expected to pass, and the dueling votes — coming the day before the sequester is set to begin — mostly give the two parties a chance to point fingers ahead of a cut that the White House warns will devastate federal services.
The Democrats’ $110 billion sequester replacement bill — the American Family Economic Protection Act, S. 388 — would avoid the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts set to take effect Friday by raising nearly $55 billion in revenue through closing tax loopholes and cutting spending by an equal amount.
The bill would phase in a new minimum tax on those making more than $1 million a year, close corporate tax loopholes, end direct farm payments and delay defense cuts.
Reid said the Democrats plan represents the kind of “balanced approach” to deficit reduction that the public supports.
“The only Republicans that don’t agree are the ones that serve in Congress,” Reid said. “Instead of replacing the pain of sequester with something smarter and more reasonable, their plan would embrace these devastating cuts.”
The Republican alternative, S. 16, would give the president more flexibility in managing the spending reductions to minimize effects on military preparedness and other vital government services, such as air traffic control and airport security screening.
McConnell complained that Republicans were able to bring up only one alternative bill.
“If the president’s sequester is going to be as horrible as Washington Democrats have promised, shouldn't we spend more than just a few hours debating it? This is the best Senate Democrats can do?” McConnell said.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) followed McConnell with a request for a separate vote on her sequester alternative.
Reid said he would allow Ayotte's plan to reach the floor if Republicans agreed to allow majority votes on all the sequester plans, but McConnell objected, keeping in place the 60-vote threshold that guarantees the Democratic plan will go down to defeat.
McConnell blasted Obama’s warning about the impact of the cuts and accused him of deliberately cutting vital services in order to rally support behind his call for tax hikes.
“The president is ready to make it bite as hard as possible — all to send a simple message to the public: ‘You want to control Washington spending, America? Fine, let me show you much I can make it hurt,’ ” McConnell said.
“Instead of directing his Cabinet secretaries to trim waste in their departments, he’s going to go after first-responders and teachers ... and somehow, it will be everyone’s fault but his.”
Reid and McConnell will join Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for a meeting at the White House on Friday to discuss the sequester cuts with the president.
—This story was first posted at 10:18 a.m. and has been updated.