WASHINGTON — A killed U.S. Senate bill to give the president power to decide what gets cut under sequestration garnered just two Democratic votes, but its sponsor said that is encouraging.
The Senate voted down two sequestration bills Thursday, triggering twin $500 billion, decade-spanning cuts to planned defense and domestic spending scheduled to kick in March 27. The nixed Democratic bill would have replaced the first year of the cuts while the scuttled GOP measure would have allowed President Barack Obama and the executive branch to decide what gets cut, rather than the current law’s mandate of an across-the-board cut to nonexempt accounts.
Just two Democrats — Sens. Max Baucus of Montana and Mark Warner of Virginia — voted for the GOP measure, which was handily defeated, 62-38.
But one of the bill’s sponsors called that Democratic defection a reason for hope that a bipartisan plan to avert the cuts is possible before they kick in March 27.
“I applaud my Democratic colleagues who stepped across the aisle today to vote for my bill despite a veto threat from the president,” said Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member James Inhofe, R-Okla. “My number one goal all along has been to avert defense cuts, but until we find that solution, we must at least give our military leaders the ability to mitigate the devastating impacts of these arbitrary across-the-board cuts.”
He said he and the bill’s other sponsor, Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., “never considered this a partisan bill.”
Inhofe said he intends to “build on the work we have done so far and will continue to reach out to my Democratic colleagues to join me in finding a solution that gives our military leaders the flexibility they have requested.”
Numerous Democratic and Republican senators told reporters following the anti-climatic votes that an eventual solution must be crafted by members of both parties.
“We’re going to continue working for a bipartisan coalition that avoids the harmful effects of the possible cuts,” Senate Armed Services Committee member Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., told Defense News. “We have to pull back the effects of sequestration, so we protect job creation, the economic recovery and our national security.
“But let me just say: It has to be a bipartisan solution,” Blumenthal said.
Several Republican senators broke ranks and voted against their party’s bill: Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Susan Collins of Maine, Dan Heller of Nevada, Mike Lee of Utah, John McCain of Arizona, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida.
Those GOP members were worried the bill would have given Obama too much power, taking away Congress’ constitutional power of the purse.
Three Democrats from swing or traditionally conservative states broke ranks with their party and voted against the Democratic bill: Sens. Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Pryor of Arkansas. All are up for re-election in 2014.
The Democratic bill failed 51-49; it needed 60 votes to end debate.