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 LandrieuCassidy wins reelection in Louisiana Bottom line A decade of making a difference: Senate Caucus on Foster Youth MORE (La.), Mark PryorMark Lunsford PryorBottom line Everybody wants Joe Manchin Cotton glides to reelection in Arkansas MORE (Ark.) and Kay HaganKay Ruthven HaganInfighting grips Nevada Democrats ahead of midterms Democrats, GOP face crowded primaries as party leaders lose control Biden's gun control push poses danger for midterms 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 ReidBottom line Voters need to feel the benefit, not just hear the message Schumer-McConnell dial down the debt ceiling drama 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 WarnerFive Senate Democrats reportedly opposed to Biden banking nominee The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - House to vote on Biden social spending bill after McCarthy delay Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — US mulls Afghan evacuees' future MORE (Va.) and Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusThe good, bad, and ugly of Tester's Blackfoot-Clearwater Stewardship Act Biden nominates Nicholas Burns as ambassador to China Cryptocurrency industry lobbies Washington for 'regulatory clarity' MORE (Mont.) were the only Democrats who voted for the GOP bill. GOP Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP senators appalled by 'ridiculous' House infighting MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace, Chris Christie battle over Fox News Trump's attacks on McConnell seen as prelude to 2024 White House bid MORE (Ariz.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeCongress's goal in December: Avoid shutdown and default No deal in sight as Congress nears debt limit deadline Republicans struggle to save funding for Trump's border wall MORE (Utah), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulCongress's goal in December: Avoid shutdown and default Cotton swipes at Fauci: 'These bureaucrats think that they are the science' Paul, Cruz fire back after Fauci says criticism of him is 'dangerous' MORE (Ky.), Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteSununu setback leaves GOP scrambling in New Hampshire The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - GOP dealt 2022 blow, stares down Trump-era troubles Sununu exit underscores uncertain GOP path to gain Senate majority MORE (N.H.), Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenate nearing deal on defense bill after setback Congress's goal in December: Avoid shutdown and default Overnight Defense & National Security — US, Iran return to negotiating table MORE (Texas), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks This Thanksgiving, skip the political food fights and talk UFOs instead Biden move to tap oil reserves draws GOP pushback MORE (S.C.), Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerNevada becomes early Senate battleground Nevada governor Sisolak injured in car accident, released from hospital Democrats brace for tough election year in Nevada MORE (Nev.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioWisconsinites need infrastructure that is built to last  Republicans struggle to save funding for Trump's border wall Rubio: Dropping FARC from terrorist list threatens Colombians, US security MORE (Fla.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsBiden signs four bills aimed at helping veterans The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - The omicron threat and Biden's plan to beat it Senate GOP blocks defense bill, throwing it into limbo 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 McConnellSenate nearing deal on defense bill after setback On The Money — Powell pivots as inflation rises Schumer eyeing Build Back Better vote as soon as week of Dec. 13 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 BoehnerFeehery: The next Republican wave is coming Rift widens between business groups and House GOP Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power 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 & National Security — US, Iran return to negotiating table Senate GOP blocks defense bill, throwing it into limbo Senate GOP expected to block defense bill amid stalemate 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 MikulskiTwo women could lead a powerful Senate spending panel for first time in history Harris invites every female senator to dinner next week Will the real Lee Hamiltons and Olympia Snowes please stand up? 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 SchumerChuck SchumerThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - The omicron threat and Biden's plan to beat it Lawmakers take aim at 'Grinches' using bots to target consumers during holidays Democratic frustration growing over stagnating voting rights bills 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.