Senate sets votes on sequester alternatives for Thursday afternoon

Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) called Thursday’s votes a “charade” since lawmakers knew neither proposal would meet the 60-vote threshold to advance the bills.

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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.

“The balanced approach we’re looking at increases revenue and has strategic cuts,” Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said. “The revenue that we’re talking about is to close these juicy loopholes and end these outrageous tax earmarks. … It means that a billionaire should pay the same tax rate as someone who makes about $55,000 a year. If I were a billionaire I’d take that deal, but I’m not a billionaire and neither is 99 percent of America.”

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.

“We cannot continue to spend money at the rate we’ve been spending,” Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) said. “We need to start the process of getting our spending under control and frankly the sequester barely starts that process.

“I think it’s important to give the president the flexibility to go after less important things and fund the more essential ones. It can’t be that every program is equal.”

But not all Republicans agree on the GOP alternative. Defense hawks have complained that the cuts to the Defense Department are still too extreme.

“What we’re doing in this sequestration proposal is ill-conceived and despicable,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said. “I cannot tell you how ashamed I am of what we’ve done to those who have been busting their butts time and again being redeployed … and if we cannot fix this, then we all ought to be fired.”

Congressional leaders will meet at the White House on Friday to discuss the sequester cuts with the president. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said he hope lawmakers discuss a major deficit-reduction deal instead of just a way to implement sequestration.

“We need a big deal. We need it to be balanced,” Coons said. “We need it to be fair, and to include spending, entitlement reform and revenue.”