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 PryorTom Cotton's only Democratic rival quits race in Arkansas Medicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation MORE (Ark.) and Kay HaganKay Ruthven HaganDemocrats will win back the Senate majority in 2020, all thanks to President Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Better Medicare Alliance - Dems shift strategy on impeachment vote Former North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan dies at 66 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 ReidThe Memo: Democrats confront prospect of long primary Bottom Line Lobbying world 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 WarnerHillicon Valley: Federal inquiry opened into Google health data deal | Facebook reports millions of post takedowns | Microsoft shakes up privacy debate | Disney plus tops 10M sign-ups in first day Microsoft embraces California law, shaking up privacy debate Google sparks new privacy fears over health care data MORE (Va.) and Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusBottom line Overnight 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 MORE (Mont.) were the only Democrats who voted for the GOP bill. GOP Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainDonald Trump's 2020 election economic gamble 2020 Democrats make play for veterans' votes The Memo: Democrats confront prospect of long primary MORE (Ariz.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Hillicon Valley: Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract in court | State antitrust investigation into Google expands | Intel agencies no longer collecting location data without warrant Senators introduce bipartisan bill restricting police use of facial recognition tech MORE (Utah), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Trump: 'Everybody knows who the whistleblower is' Johnson opens door to subpoenaing whistleblower, Schiff, Bidens MORE (Ky.), Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteGOP fears Trump backlash in suburbs Trump makes rare trip to Clinton state, hoping to win back New Hampshire Key endorsements: A who's who in early states MORE (N.H.), Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators at White House Senators confirm Erdoğan played 'propaganda' video in White House meeting MORE (Texas), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy GOP eager for report on alleged FBI surveillance abuse Johnson opens door to subpoenaing whistleblower, Schiff, Bidens 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 RubioGOP senators plan to tune out impeachment week Republicans warn election results are 'wake-up call' for Trump Paul's demand to out whistleblower rankles GOP colleagues MORE (Fla.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Senate confirms controversial circuit court nominee Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families 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 McConnellLawmakers skeptical of progress on spending deal as wall battle looms Impeachment battle looms over must-pass defense bill 'Saturday Night Live' presents Trump impeachment hearings with 'pizzazz' of soap opera 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 BoehnerFrom learning on his feet to policy director Is Congress retrievable? Boehner reveals portrait done by George W. Bush 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 InhofeOvernight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families GOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families 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 SchumerOvernight Health Care: Trump officials making changes to drug pricing proposal | House panel advances flavored e-cig ban | Senators press FDA tobacco chief on vaping ban Chad Wolf becomes acting DHS secretary Schumer blocks drug pricing measure during Senate fight, seeking larger action 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.