No official White House endorsement of House Dems’ sequester alternative

Even as President Obama draws fire from Republicans over looming sequester cuts, the White House has so far refrained from endorsing the Democrats' plan to avoid them.

Although Obama has proposed a 10-year budget plan to stave off the automatic cuts to defense and domestic spending scheduled to hit in 2013, the administration has not formally championed the one-year fix pushed by House Democrats this week as an alternative to the Republicans' proposals.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the sponsor of the Democrats' alternative, said Friday that his bill incorporates many of the same ideas contained in Obama's longer-term proposal.


Those include provisions to end oil and gas subsidies, eliminate direct payments to farmers and adopt the so-called Buffett Rule, which is designed to ensure that wealthy Americans don't pay a lower tax rate than those who earn much less. 

But the Maryland Democrat conceded that the White House has not signed off on his plan.

"I think they support the approach, I don't know about the specific bill," said Van Hollen, the senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee.

"They've endorsed the elements [but] we haven't asked yet for their official position on this bill," he added, emphasizing that "they haven't not endorsed it.”

"The president's been very focused on a 10-year alternative, and we support that, but this was a specific subset of those issues," he said.

Enacted last August as part of the bipartisan deal to raise the debt ceiling, the sequester consists of roughly $1.1 trillion in automatic cuts split between defense and discretionary domestic spending over the next decade. 

The blunt instrument was designed to be such a threat to popular programs that it would motivate the fiscal supercommittee — a 12-member bipartisan panel created by the same law — to reach agreement on an alternative deficit reduction plan. When the panel failed to strike a deal, it triggered the sequester, leaving lawmakers in both parties scrambling this year in search of ways to prevent the $109 billion in cuts scheduled for 2013 alone.

On Friday, the White House released a report warning that the “indiscriminate” process would cut 9.4 percent of the defense budget, slash domestic programs across-the-board by 8 percent and cut 2 percent from Medicare coffers.

Republican opposition to the Democrats' proposal for a clean debt-ceiling hike led to the inclusion of the sequester. But GOP leaders are blaming Obama for the looming cuts — and Friday's report gave them new reason to attack.

"This report confirms that the president’s ‘sequester’ is a serious threat to our national security and must be replaced," House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerA time for war, a time for peace — and always a time to defend America Esper's chief of staff to depart at end of January Soleimani killing deepens distrust between Trump, Democrats MORE (R-Ohio) said in a statement.

"It is neither credible nor conscionable that our Commander-in-Chief would point to his budget — which received zero votes in both the House and Senate — as a legitimate plan to stop these dangerous defense cuts.” 

On Thursday, House Republicans passed legislation requiring the White House to outline a plan to avoid the sequester cuts.

Under the GOP bill, Obama would have until Oct. 15 to submit those details, though the bill is likely going nowhere in the Senate.

The Democrats’ proposal didn't get nearly so far. It was shot down in the House Rules Committee a day earlier. 

Van Hollen condemned the GOP plan as a "charade" while other Democratic leaders hammered Republicans for opposing a "balanced" solution that spreads the pain between spending cuts and tax hikes.

“The reason we have a problem here is because our Republican colleagues have refused to have one red cent from the wealthiest people in our country contribute to resolving this fiscal crisis," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on the chamber floor just before Thursday's vote.

Van Hollen piled on Friday, accusing GOP leaders of focusing solely on spending cuts without new revenues.

"We've never seen an actual proposal from our Republican colleagues that has a balanced approach. Not one," Van Hollen said. "They keep trying to pretend the president doesn't have a plan. The president has a plan. They just don't like the balanced approach."

The White House did not respond to a request for comment on the Van Hollen bill.