Senate Sequestration: Two Competing Bills Attempt to Find a Solution


Two competing Senate bills are up for a vote Thursday and neither is expected to pass. Instead, they're likely to provide political cover for each political party as the March 1 deadline approaches.

The bills don't even try and address the overall deficit reduction goal but rather delay sequestration through the end of the year. To do that, they have to bring down the deficit by $85 billion. Democrats and Republicans have different visions for what that should look like.

The Democratic plan, put forward by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Utah), raises about $53 billion in revenue and $48.5 billion in savings. The money would come from a 30% minimum tax on those with gross incomes from $1 million to $5 million. The savings would come from reduced farm subsidies and military spending in the future. The Republican plan doesn't offer a way around immediate sequestration like Reid's, rather it places the political onus on the Obama administration to deal with it.

The Republican plan in the Senate would explicitly grant the Executive branch the power to make selective cuts that total $85 billion. The Office of Management and Budget, for instance, could be directed by Obama to spare the Defense Department from sequestration while offsetting the cuts elsewhere. The bill is in part a political tool, because it would undercut Obama's argument that the sequester could hurt defense and force the administration to cut more from other programs. Regardless, the plan isn't expected to garner the 60 votes necessary to survive a filibuster.

While the Senate is likely to vote on the bills Thursday, neither is a real solution. The more likely scenario is that we roll through March 1 and enter a period where cuts slowly take effect, while the debate turns to how Congress will fund the government past March 27, when the current resolution that authorizes money for it runs out. It's the next big budget battle and is already around the corner.