Senate Puts Fed Pay Freeze Proposal on Ice

Alex Brandon/AP

This story has been updated.

The Senate won’t consider a proposal Thursday that would replace the sequester by reducing federal employees’ pay and benefits.

“My proposal won’t get a vote today,” said Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., who sponsored a measure that sought to avoid the scheduled automatic spending cuts for a year, partly by extending the civilian federal pay freeze through 2014 and increasing current employees’ pension contributions by 2.3 percent over three years. “I think this is a time, frankly, when we need to bring more ideas to the floor, not less ideas.”

Ayotte’s proposal also would extend the pay freeze for members of Congress and increase the amount lawmakers contribute to their retirement benefits.

The Senate instead held procedural votes Thursday afternoon on two bills to replace the spending cuts, one offered by Democrats, the other sponsored by Republican Sens. James Inhofe of Oklahoma and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. Both ultimately failed to garner the 60 votes necessary to advance in the chamber. The Democrats’ plan (S. 388) would find budget savings by ending tax loopholes, increasing taxes on high-income earners, restructuring some cuts to the Defense Department and eliminating some farm subsidies. The Inhofe-Toomey bill (S. 16) gives the president flexibility over how to implement the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts in fiscal 2013, which will begin on Friday. That bill also would require Obama to submit to Congress a package of alternative spending cuts for consideration by March 15.

The defeat of the latest proposed alternatives to the sequester means the automatic spending cuts are likely to go into effect on Friday. Obama plans to meet with congressional leadership March 1 at the White House to discuss sequestration.

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