Republicans settle on sequester alternative

Senate Republicans have offered legislation crafted by Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.) as their alternative to the sequester due to take effect Friday.

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Some Republicans initially balked at the plan because they thought it gave too much power to President Obama and did not do enough to protect defense programs.

The bill grants the Office of Management and Budget flexibility to implement $85 billion worth of spending cuts scheduled for fiscal year 2013.

Some Republicans argue the administration already has this power but lawmakers from both sides have characterized the sequester as a “meat-axe” approach that would cut programs across the board.

The Toomey-Inhofe plan would require the same amount be cut from federal programs but would give Obama authority to replace cuts to defense with cuts from elsewhere in the budget.

It explicitly prohibits a tax increase.

The Senate will vote on it tomorrow along with a Democratic plan and both are expected to fall short of the 60-vote threshold. Several Republicans could vote against the GOP alternative.

Some Republicans complain that it gives too much authority to Obama. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), the former senior Republican on the Appropriations Committee, said he would “probably” vote against it for that reason.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a leader on defense issues, has also raised objections because the bill would likely not stop a more-than-$40 billion reduction in defense spending.

Senate Republicans debated at lunches on Tuesday and Wednesday over what sequester alternatives to propose. McCain and Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Kelley Ayotte (R-N.H.) proposed an alternate plan to reduce the defense cuts to $10 billion.

“I don’t care how flexible you want to be, the top-line numbers don’t add up to me on defense. That’s my problem," Graham told reporters after a contentious GOP meeting Tuesday.

Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) proposed another alternative, as did Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), according to a senior GOP source.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) entered into an agreement before the Presidents’ Day recess to give Democrats and Republicans each one vote on a sequester alternative.

McConnell this week asked Reid to allow votes on multiple Republican proposals but Reid declined the request.