In the days before $85 billion in government-wide budget cuts take effect, Republican lawmakers are grabbing at all kinds of proposals to try to lessen the damage.
If Congress fails to pass a bill by March 1, across-the-board cuts will begin to be implemented, further freezing government contracts and beginning the process of furloughing hundreds of thousands of government workers.
As President Barack Obama traveled to Newport News, Va., to explain the devastation to shipyard workers who heard a similar message from Republican lawmakers last fall, senators were busy offering new fixes that have little chance of passing.
There are controversial bills to grant the Obama administration more flexibility to direct the spending cuts, proposals to spare thefrom the cuts but apply them to all other agencies, and plans to recoup unspent government funding for the federal treasury.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) suggests that the president should come back to Congress with a new budget request for fiscal 2013 using the $950 billion figure for spending allowed under the first year of sequestration, allow the appropriations committees to use that request to draw up a bill and have Congress vote on that kind of package.
“We could have it on the floor in two weeks,” Alexander says. “We could have a bill that takes care of both the sequester and the continuing resolution.”
The Democrats have a separate proposal to pay for sequestration in the first year through a combination of closing tax loopholes and spending cuts, and continue to hammer away at the need to pass it.
None of those proposals has a chance of passing before March 1, the date on which the first set of budget cuts are supposed to take effect.
But Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.), who leads the House spending panel that funds, sees the seeds of a potential compromise in Republican senators who have said they are open to about $600 billion in new tax revenues. That could be the opening that allows new negotiations to move forward. “The president said he’s willing to negotiate,” Fattah says. “We may be slightly late to doing it but I think we’re going to get there.”
Fattah sees a replacement for sequestration emerging within days of the March 1 deadline.
Defense industry analyst Jim McAleese foresees the penalty taking hold for at least two weeks to a month. He says the White House is “sweetening” its compromise on the sequester. It would offer $930 billion in spending cuts, $580 billion in tax reforms and $290 billion in savings on interest payments. “This is a significant development,” he says, adding that it “sets the stage for endgame negotiations in March.”