Senators Pitch Dueling Plans to Reverse Furloughs

Great divide remains in sequestration replacement debates.

Several Senators have introduced legislation to cancel sequestration or reduce its impact for fiscal 2013, following a proposal introduced by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., earlier this week.

Announcing his own plan, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., rebuked Reid’s proposal, which would use savings from the drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan to offset the automatic budget cuts through September.

“Sen. Reid’s amendment dodges the hard decisions necessary to restore fiscal responsibility and instead takes from those who are willing to sacrifice it all on our nation’s behalf,” Inhofe said in a statement. “It’s budget cowardice on the backs of our warfighters.”  

Inhofe, along with Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., put forward a modified version of a bill they introduced in February to give President Obama more flexibility in implementing sequestration cuts in the current fiscal year. The proposal would allow the White House to make the requisite cuts “from any discretionary appropriations or direct spending account.”

“The across-the-board cuts of sequestration are irresponsible and do not distinguish high priority programs from low priority spending,” Inhofe said in a statement when the original bill was introduced. “This bill is not the substitute for fixing sequestration and putting a stop on further defense cuts. However, until that solution is found, this bill would make a potentially devastating situation a little more manageable.”

That bill failed in the Senate by a 32-68 vote. Obama had threatened to veto the legislation because it prohibited the use of any new tax revenues in order to offset the cuts.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also issued a striking criticism of Reid’s bill, calling it “the height of fiscal irresponsibility.”

“The President rejected the flexibility we proposed on the sequester for obvious political reasons,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “He wanted these cuts to be as painful as possible for folks across the country and to provide an excuse to raise taxes to turn them off.”

Reid rejected the notion that shifting around funds could make sequestration bearable.

“The pain is too severe,” he said. “It can't be balanced out.”

Late Thursday, the Senate passed legislation to increase sequestration flexibility at the Federal Aviation Administration aimed at reducing flight delays by allowing FAA and the Transportation Department -- its parent agency -- to transfer funds between accounts. This would prevent air traffic controllers from being furloughed, the bill's proponents said.

“America’s economy runs on transportation, including air travel, and delays like we’re seeing this week are disrupting commerce and causing real inconvenience for travelers,” Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., who introduced the bill with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said in a statement. “Our bill addresses the issue directly and in a bipartisan way by giving the secretary of Transportation the flexibility he needs to prioritize his budget and put air traffic controllers back on the job for America’s traveling public.” 

The House was expected to take up the proposal on Friday.

Two Republican House committee leaders -- Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa. -- wrote a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood Thursday alleging his department already has the flexibility it needs to avoid FAA furloughs.

This story was updated to note the passage of the Hoeven-Klobuchar bill to end air traffic controller furloughs.

 

NEXT STORY: No Furloughs at Justice

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