White House backs Reid move to delay sequester cuts

The White House said Wednesday it would support Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) plan to offset the sequester with money allocated for the war in Afghanistan.

The president's support comes even though the plan does not include new revenue, a sticking point for the White House in previous negotiations to eliminate the sequester budget cuts.

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“We support Sen. Reid's effort to postpone the sequester temporarily to allow for time for Congress to adopt a balanced approach to get rid of the sequester and reduce the deficit,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday.

Reid introduced a bill Tuesday that would lower the amount of money budgeted for the war in Afghanistan during 2014-2016 to prevent the sequester cuts from being made for five months. He said the use of this “overseas contingency fund” would delay the automatic spending cuts and buy lawmakers time to work out a new deal.

“During this five-month period, we could come up with something that was longer term," Reid said.

“There's about $650 billion there; let's use it, a small part of that, to take care of sequestration for the next five months,” added Reid, who said the savings were identified in the House GOP budget.

Reid tried to bring the bill to the Senate floor on Tuesday, but Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) blocked his request for unanimous consent. Aides say a vote on a motion to proceed to the bill could come Thursday.

Republicans have denied that the financial plan presented by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) uses war savings — a charge Carney also made Wednesday.

Democrats point to the Ryan budget summary tables in 2011 and 2012 which contain a comparison to the Congressional Budget Office baseline. The table shows lower global war on terror spending and this gets counted as deficit reduction.

A House aide said this is just a factor of CBO baseline choices and that Ryan tallied his deficit reduction against the presidential budget request where no war savings is counted. He said Ryan has been consistent in calling war savings a gimmick.

Republicans say that because the war was deficit spending to begin with, Reid's proposal is a budget gimmick.

“Continual, temporary Band-aids and political posturing such as this simply compound the real problem and bring us no closer to finding meaningful solutions,” said Jennifer Hing, spokeswoman for House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.).

While the GOP has dismissed Reid's proposal, Republicans seized on the White House’s signal it could accept a sequester offset that did not include new revenue.

“Good to see Carney drop the White House's longstanding demand that any sequester replacement include tax hikes,” Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tweeted.

Carney said that the White House saw Reid's bill as a “temporary” solution and that the president would still want “balance” in a larger debt deal.

The start of furloughs for air traffic controllers have called new attention to the sequester by contributing to flight delays around the nation.

Republicans argue that the delays are a manufactured crisis from the White House and that other funds could be used to keep air traffic controllers on the job.

Carney has said the Federal Aviation Administration has no choice because of the sequester.

“Republicans made a choice,” Carney said. “This is a result of the sequester being implemented. We made it clear that there would be these kinds of negative effects if Congress failed to take reasonable action to avert the sequester.”

This story was updated at 6:57 p.m.