Senate rejects rival bills to prevent $85B sequester spending cuts

Senate rejects rival bills to prevent $85B sequester spending cuts

The Senate on Thursday rejected rival proposals to stop the sequester, ensuring the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts will begin on Friday.

A bill crafted by Senate Democrats won 51 votes, while a Republican alternative won only 38 votes. Three Democrats — Sens. Mary LandrieuMary LandrieuCNN producer on new O'Keefe video: Voters are 'stupid,' Trump is 'crazy' CNN's Van Jones: O'Keefe Russia 'nothingburger' video 'a hoax' Trump posts O'Keefe videos on Instagram MORE (La.), Mark PryorMark PryorMedicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm MORE (Ark.) and Kay HaganKay HaganLinking repatriation to job creation Former Sen. Kay Hagan in ICU after being rushed to hospital GOP senator floats retiring over gridlock MORE (N.C.), who are all up for reelection in 2014 — voted against their party's bill, which fell 51-49.

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidOPINION | 5 ways Democrats can win back power in the states THE MEMO: Trump's base cheers attacks on McConnell It's time for McConnell to fight with Trump instead of against him MORE (D-Nev.) also switched his vote to "no," a procedural move that would allow him to bring the bill to the floor in the future. 

Both plans needed 60 votes to advance, and as expected, neither came close to meeting that threshold.

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Democrats did appear more unified than Republicans, who suffered 8 defections because of concerns that their legislation did too little to shield the military from deep cuts. 

Sens. Mark WarnerMark WarnerTrump declares 'racism is evil' after firestorm How the New South became a swing region How to fix Fannie and Freddie to give Americans affordable housing MORE (Va.) and Max BaucusMax BaucusTrump has yet to travel west as president Healthcare profiles in courage and cowardice OPINION | On Trump-Russia probe, don’t underestimate Sen. Chuck Grassley MORE (Mont.) were the only Democrats who voted for the GOP bill. GOP Sens. John McCainJohn McCainMcCain defends McMaster from right-wing media attacks After ObamaCare repeal failure, look to the center Challenger’s super PAC accuses Flake of betraying voters in new ad MORE (Ariz.), Mike LeeMike LeeTrouble draining the swamp? Try returning power to the states Congress must act to protect data privacy before courts make surveillance even easier Five tough decisions for the GOP on healthcare MORE (Utah), Rand PaulRand PaulGlimmer of hope in bipartisan criminal justice reform effort Trump barrage stuns McConnell and his allies No. 2 Senate Republican backs McConnell in Trump fight MORE (Ky.), Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteRNC chair warns: Republicans who refused to back Trump offer 'cautionary tale' OPINION: Democracy will send ISIS to the same grave as communism Kelly Ayotte joins defense contractor's board of directors MORE (N.H.), Ted CruzTed CruzThe Memo: Trump tries to quiet race storm Cruz calls for Justice Department investigation into Charlottesville violence THE MEMO: Trump's base cheers attacks on McConnell MORE (Texas), Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamTrump's Charlottesville comments push North Korea from spotlight 'Dreamers' deadline looms for Trump Graham: Trump must do more to distance himself from white supremacists MORE (S.C.), Dean HellerDean HellerDNC targets Heller with billboard ads Dems target Flake's seat amid GOP infighting Trump signs Veterans Affairs bill at New Jersey golf club MORE (Nev.), Marco RubioMarco RubioThe Memo: Trump tries to quiet race storm Trump tweets on trade, military, Alabama, but not Charlottesville Venezuelan leader put a hit on Marco Rubio: report MORE (Fla.) and Susan CollinsSusan CollinsNo. 2 Senate Republican backs McConnell in Trump fight The fight to protect the Affordable Care Act isn’t over The real litmus test is whether pro-life democrats vote for pro-life legislation MORE (Maine) voted against the GOP bill, which failed 38-62.

Congressional leaders say there is no Plan B and that the sequester, as the cuts are known in Washington, will be phased in over the next seven months. Hopes that a government-funding measure could become a vehicle to avert some of the cuts have also faded.

If Congress fails to freeze the cuts, a total of $110 billion in spending reductions to domestic discretionary and defense programs will have been implemented in the fiscal year that began last October and ends on Sept. 30.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the cuts could cost 750,000 jobs this year.

Following the votes, President Obama said Senate Republicans voted “to let the entire burden of deficit reduction fall squarely on the middle class.

“Today, Republicans in the Senate faced a choice about how to grow our economy and reduce our deficit. And instead of closing a single tax loophole that benefits the well-off and well-connected, they chose to cut vital services for children, seniors, our men and women in uniform and their families,” Obama said in a statement.

Obama will meet with congressional leaders from both parties and chambers on Friday at the White House to discuss the next steps for addressing the sequester.

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellTrump quietly putting his stamp on the courts Democrats see ObamaCare leverage in spending fights OPINION | Progressives, now's your chance to secure healthcare for all MORE (Ky.) said he will tell Obama in blunt terms that Republicans will not accept additional tax increases after voting for a $620 billion tax hike on New Year’s Day.

“Look: the American people will simply not accept replacing spending cuts agreed to by both parties with tax hikes. And I plan to make all of this clear to the president when I meet with him tomorrow,” McConnell said.

Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerIt's time for McConnell to fight with Trump instead of against him How Republicans can bring order out of the GOP's chaos Republican donor sues GOP for fraud over ObamaCare repeal failure MORE (R-Ohio) says the House will not pass a sequester replacement until the Senate acts.

“Republicans have voted twice to replace the president’s sequester with smarter spending cuts and reforms. But the president and Democrat leaders have failed to pass a solution of their own. It’s time that they do,” he said at a press conference Thursday. “My message at the White House will be the same as what I’m telling you today: It’s time for them to do their job and to pass a bill.”

It’s unclear what Congress will do next to attempt to stop the automatic cuts. Lawmakers and aides said the sequester could last well beyond the end of March.

The Democratic bill to replace the sequester would have reduced spending by $55 billion and raised taxes by $55 billion. Most of the tax revenues would have come from phasing in a 30 percent effective tax rate on incomes between $1 million and $5 million. Adjusted gross incomes above $5 million would have been taxed at a 30 percent effective rate. The bill cut agricultural subsidies by $27.5 billion and defense by the same amount.

The Republican alternative sponsored by Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and James InhofeJames InhofeWasting America’s nuclear opportunity McCain absence adds to GOP agenda’s uncertainty GOP signals infrastructure bill must wait MORE (R-Okla.) would have given the president more flexibility to manage the cuts and limited the impact on national security. It would have allowed Obama to shift cuts slated for defense programs to other areas and explicitly prohibited tax or fee increases.

Republicans opposed to the bill, including defense hawks and the party’s top appropriator, said it would do too little to protect defense programs and would give too much of Congress’s authority to Obama.

Ayotte, an ally of McCain, a vocal opponent of defense cuts, circulated a plan to limit the reduction in military spending. She asked for a vote on her bill as well, but the Senate majority leader said he would only allow one if Republicans agreed to lower the threshold for passing any of the three sequester alternatives to 50 votes, a move that would have allowed the Democratic bill to clear the Senate.

McConnell rejected Reid’s condition.

Reid accused Republicans of wanting the sequester to go forward and said there would not be any agreement to replace it until Republicans give ground on tax revenues.

“The Republicans want the sequester to go forward,” he said. “We cannot solve the problems of this country with cuts, cuts, cuts. We’ve cut $2.6 trillion. We need to do more but we’re going to do it in a balanced approach. We cannot continue to hurt the middle class and the poor.”

Some lawmakers think the expiration of government funding on March 27 will give them another opportunity to turn off the sequester.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara MikulskiBarbara MikulskiGore wishes Mikulski a happy birthday at 'Inconvenient Sequel' premiere Bipartisan friendship is a civil solution to political dysfunction Dems press for paycheck fairness bill on Equal Pay Day MORE (D-Md.) said that is her hope but that there are no specific plans to pair a sequester replacement with an omnibus spending bill or continuing resolution.

“I would hope it to be but there’s no plan,” Mikulski said when asked whether an omnibus or continuing resolution could be the vehicle for stopping the sequester.

Sen. Chuck SchumerCharles SchumerDemocrats urge Trump to condemn Charlottesville violence Melania Trump on Charlottesville protests: 'No good comes from violence' It's time for McConnell to fight with Trump instead of against him MORE (D-N.Y.) said Senate Democrats will propose deficit-reduction measures to replace the sequester when they bring a budget resolution to the floor next month.

“The debate’s only beginning. In the coming weeks under [Budget Committee] Chairman [Patty] Murray’s [(D-Wash.)] leadership we’ll consider a budget that will keep these issues front and center,” said Schumer. “The budget even more than the debate over sequestration will show the contrast in the two sides’ approach.”

Murray said her budget plan would include a proposal for stopping the sequester.

—Ramsey Cox and Erik Wasson contributed to this report.

This report was last updated at 7:49 p.m.