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 Loretta LandrieuCongress needs to work to combat the poverty, abuse and neglect issues that children face Dems wrestle over how to vote on ‘Green New Deal’ Lobbying world MORE (La.), Mark PryorMark Lunsford 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 Ruthven HaganTillis trails Democratic challenger by 7 points in North Carolina poll North Carolina businessman will challenge Tillis in GOP primary Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 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 Mason ReidAl Franken says he 'absolutely' regrets resigning Dems open to killing filibuster in next Congress Webb: Questions for Robert Mueller 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 Robert WarnerElection security to take back seat at Mueller hearing Top Democrats demand security assessment of Trump properties Senate passes bill making hacking voting systems a federal crime MORE (Va.) and Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusOvernight Defense: McCain honored in Capitol ceremony | Mattis extends border deployment | Trump to embark on four-country trip after midterms Congress gives McCain the highest honor Judge boots Green Party from Montana ballot in boost to Tester MORE (Mont.) were the only Democrats who voted for the GOP bill. GOP Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainStephen Miller hits Sunday show to defend Trump against racism charges Michelle Obama weighs in on Trump, 'Squad' feud: 'Not my America or your America. It's our America' Meghan McCain shares story of miscarriage MORE (Ariz.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeThe Hill's Morning Report — Mueller Time: Dems, GOP ready questions for high-stakes testimony This week: Mueller dominates chaotic week on Capitol Hill Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Health care moves to center stage of Democratic primary fight | Sanders, Biden trade sharps jabs on Medicare for All | Senate to vote on 9/11 bill next week | Buttigieg pushes for cheaper insulin MORE (Utah), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulThe Hill's Morning Report — Mueller Time: Dems, GOP ready questions for high-stakes testimony This week: Mueller dominates chaotic week on Capitol Hill US-Saudi Arabia policy needs a dose of 'realpolitik' MORE (Ky.), Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteKey endorsements: A who's who in early states Sinema, Gallagher fastest lawmakers in charity race New Hampshire senator to ask 2020 Dems to back repeal of state residency law MORE (N.H.), Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTed Cruz: 'Fox News went all in for Trump' 2 Republican senators introduce resolution to label antifa as domestic terrorists Ted Cruz: Trump's chances of winning reelection are '50-50' MORE (Texas), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's Morning Report — Mueller Time: Dems, GOP ready questions for high-stakes testimony Democrats should rise above and unify against Trump's tweets US-Saudi Arabia policy needs a dose of 'realpolitik' MORE (S.C.), Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerThis week: Barr back in hot seat over Mueller report Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary MORE (Nev.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioAna Navarro lashes out at Rubio for calling outrage over Trump's 'go back' tweet 'self righteous' US-Saudi Arabia policy needs a dose of 'realpolitik' Media cried wolf: Calling every Republican a racist lost its bite MORE (Fla.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers struggle to understand Facebook's Libra project | EU hits Amazon with antitrust probe | New cybersecurity concerns over census | Robocall, election security bills head to House floor | Privacy questions over FaceApp Trump angry more Republicans haven't defended his tweets: report 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 McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report — Mueller Time: Dems, GOP ready questions for high-stakes testimony Election security to take back seat at Mueller hearing McConnell challenger faces tougher path after rocky launch 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 Andrew BoehnerBoehner won't say whether he'd back Biden over Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Trump seizes House impeachment vote to rally GOP Amash's critics miss the fact that partisanship is the enemy of compromise 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 (Jim) Mountain InhofeSenate panel advances Pentagon chief, Joint Chiefs chairman nominees Trump's pick to lead Pentagon glides through confirmation hearing Trump says US will not sell Turkey F-35s after Russian missile defense system purchase 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 Ann MikulskiLobbying World Only four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates Raskin embraces role as constitutional scholar 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. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump says he will meet with Schumer 'ASAP' after border visit Dem senator describes 'overcrowded quarters,' 'harsh odor' at border facilities Top Democrats demand security assessment of Trump properties 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.