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Competing Sequester Alternatives Rejected as Deadline Approaches

Senators rejected competing sequester replacement proposals Thursday, unable to agree on what legislation to take up to stop $85.3 billion in across-the-board spending cuts from going into effect Friday.

The chamber turned back Democratic and Republican plans in two test votes designed to help the parties position themselves for negotiations after the budget cuts take hold tomorrow.

Nine Republicans joined Democrats to defeat, 38-62, the GOP plan (S 16), which would give President Barack Obama until March 15 to send Congress an alternative package of savings.

The Republicans who voted “no” were as follows: Susan Collins of Maine, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Ted Cruz of Texas, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Mike Lee of Utah, John McCain of Arizona, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Dean Heller of Nevada and Marco Rubio of Florida.

Two Democrats, Max Baucus of Montana and Mark Warner of Virginia, joined the majority of Republicans in voting to take up the GOP proposal.

The chamber then voted down, 51-49, the Democratic bill (S 388), which would replace the indiscriminate cuts required under the 2011 debt limit agreement (PL 112-25) with targeted spending reductions and revenue increases.

Democrats Harry Reid of Nevada, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana voted against taking up their party’s bill. Reid’s “no” vote on procedural grounds allows him to move to limit debate on taking up the bill in the future.

Both procedural votes to proceed to the bills required a 60-vote majority.

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., criticized Republicans for moving to cede responsibility to the White House.

“Republicans call the plan flexibility,” Reid said. “Let’s call it what it is. It is a punt.”

The Obama administration echoed that point, saying in a veto threat Thursday that the GOP bill is “an effort to shift the focus away from the need for the Congress to work toward a bipartisan compromise.”

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., countered that the Democratic plan is a “gimmick.”

“Top Democrats already concede it will never garner enough votes to pass the very legislative body they control, much less the House,” McConnell said. “They want it to fail so they can go around the country blaming Republicans for a sequester the president himself proposed.”

Republican leaders settled late Wednesday on a sequester replacement aimed at giving agencies more flexibility to carry out cuts, but some GOP senators said the proposal went too far in surrendering congressional budgeting responsibilities to the president while still weakening defense programs.

The bill would have provided lawmakers with the chance to block the president’s plan only by adopting within seven days a resolution of disapproval that would require Obama’s signature or the support of a veto-proof majority.

Other Republican Bills

McConnell said Thursday morning that he wanted votes on multiple GOP proposals, but leaders agreed two weeks ago to submit one bill apiece. Reid said the chamber could vote on more bills, but only if Republicans would lower the vote threshold to 51.

Among the other GOP proposals is a measure by Ayotte to replace the sequester with spending cuts Republicans would prefer.

McCain endorsed Ayotte’s plan, saying McConnell’s bill sooner or later would result in the same “draconian” effects on national security as the sequester.

The proposal would have ruled out tax increases or spending increases in non-defense accounts. No more than half of the president’s proposed cuts could come from the defense portion of the budget, and defense cuts would have to be consistent with policies established by the fiscal 2013 defense authorization law (PL 112-239).

Democratic Plan

The Democratic sequester replacement bill would raise $53 billion in additional taxes from top earners over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The measure would require households that earn more than $5 million to pay a minimum 30 percent tax rate, expand an oil tax, eliminate direct payments for farmers and provide funding for agricultural disaster aid and certain farmers who lost income in 2012.

The CBO reported Wednesday that the legislation would add $7.2 billion to the deficit over 10 years, but it also would reduce discretionary spending by $9 billion over the period.

Alan K. Ota and Paul M. Krawzak contributed to this report.

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