One day to cuts: What’s Congress doing?

Posted at 9:50 PM, Feb 28, 2013
and last updated 2013-02-28 21:50:21-05
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- There's only one day left before $85 billion in widely disliked spending cuts start to take effect. What did Congress and the president do Thursday to deal with this self-inflicted crisis?

Senate holds show votes on Democratic, GOP alternatives

As expected, a sharply divided Senate voted Thursday afternoon to reject alternative plans put forward by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky. Reid's plan got 51 votes in support while McConnell's got 38 -- well shy of the 60 needed to clear the 100-member chamber.

Reid had proposed replacing the current spending cut package with a $110 billion blueprint that included placing new taxes on millionaires while cutting agriculture subsidies and defense spending. Most Republicans object to new defense cuts and have called any new taxes unacceptable.

McConnell wanted to give President Obama more flexibility to pick a set of replacement cuts by March 15. Democrats considered the proposal a trap, designed to put more responsibility for the cuts on Obama's shoulders. Critics in both parties considered the idea an abdication of Congress's power of the purse.

Who bucked the party line?

Nine Republicans voted against McConnell's proposal: New Hampshire's Kelly Ayotte, Maine's Susan Collins, Texas's Ted Cruz, South Carolina's Lindsey Graham, Nevada's Dean Heller, Utah's Mike Lee, Arizona's John McCain, Kentucky's Rand Paul and Florida's Marco Rubio.

Three Democrats opposed Reid's plan: North Carolina's Kay Hagan, Louisiana's Mary Landrieu and Arkansas's Mark Pryor.

Reid himself also voted against the Democratic bill, but purely for procedural reasons.

Reid & McConnell blame game rolls on

"Republicans call (their) plan 'flexibility.' But let's call it what it really is: a punt," Reid said on the Senate floor Thursday morning. "Republicans should give Congress true flexibility -- flexibility to cut wasteful subsidies, flexibility to close unnecessary tax loopholes and flexibility to ask the richest of the rich to contribute a little more. Instead, they're completely inflexible -- insisting we risk hundreds of thousands of American jobs, as well as programs that strengthen families and small businesses across this nation.

"But that should come as no surprise," Reid added. "As usual, Republicans have put the demands of special interests over the needs of middle-class Americans."

McConnell replied by insisting that top Democrats knew before Thursday they lacked the votes to pass Reid's proposal.

"Let's be very clear," he added. "For the president and his allies, that's really the whole point. They want it to fail, so they can go around the country blaming Republicans for a (spending cuts package) the president proposed. ... Instead of changing as they promised, Washington Democrats are just turning back to the same old campaign-first strategy they've employed for years."

McConnell also accused Obama of wanting to the make the looming cuts "bite as hard as possible -- all to send a simple message to the public: 'You want to control Washington spending, America? Fine, let me show you much I can make it hurt.' "

White House meeting set for Friday -- too little, too late?

Obama is set to meet with Democratic and Republican Hill leaders at the White House on Friday -- the same day he is required to begin implementing the cuts. Expectations are low. Most observers think both sides will use the occasion to underline their positions heading into the next round of the budget wars -- a possible government shutdown on March 27, when current federal funding authority expires.

House members get ready to bolt

The Republican-controlled House held one vote Thursday -- on the Violence Against Women Act. There were no plans to vote on anything related to the spending cuts. After the vote, most House members prepared to leave Washington for the weekend.

The Senate also has no votes scheduled for Friday.

"We've done our work" in the House, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters Thursday morning. Senators have "not done theirs. The House shouldn't have to pass a third bill to replace the (looming cuts) before the Senate passes one."

During the last Congress, the House passed two GOP-authored bills to replace the now-imminent spending cuts. Democrats dismissed the bills, which had no chance of clearing the Senate or surviving a presidential veto, as ideological showboating.

Pelosi says spending cuts = war on women

Friday "is the beginning of Women's History Month," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, told reporters on Capitol Hill. "We like to think of it as Women's Progress Month, acknowledging our history, seeing what more we have to do. And why I mention these two points is because of the impact of (the current spending cuts package) on women. It is specific, it is large, and it's substantial, and it must be avoided."

"Just consider this," Pelosi added. "Cuts to women's health from prenatal care to cancer screenings, cuts to services, to victims of domestic violence -- $20 million will be cut out of the Violence Against Women account. ... Cuts to initiatives to support children and families, like WIC (the Women, Infants, and Children program) and Head Start, cuts to public sector jobs, where women are 50% more likely than men to be employed, and therefore fired."

Democrats "come to Washington to be legislators," she insisted. "Somehow, that piece is missing in what the Republicans are doing here. They're just making noise. They're just saying something that might have good sound for domestic consumption back home. But they did not come here to legislate."