There were several reports on Wednesday that senior Senate Republicans may present a plan to surrender some constitutional budget powers to President Obama for the next seven months. The kicker: the president and the Democrats won't be interested.
According to a report on Poltico, GOP leaders, including Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, will offer a bill that would replace the threatened sequester budget cuts with a plan to let President Obama make selective budget cuts until the end of the current fiscal year. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma are the senators believed to be presenting the plan.
The plan is the latest twist on the "McConnell Provision," a tactic unveiled by the minority leader during the 2011 budget talks. The original McConnell Provision allowed the president to request an increase in the debt ceiling, which had to be approved by a joint congressional resolution. President Obama would have the option to veto that resolution, subject to a vote by two-thirds of Congress to override it.
The latest plan would give the Obama administration until March 8 to propose a different solution to the $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts triggered by the sequester. The president would still have to cut $85 billion in spending, but he could pick the programs to cut and not have to worry about doing it by equal percentages for each department.
In turn, Congress would have until March 22 to approve the replacement plan. If it rejected the plan, a veto would follow and Congress would have to muster two-thirds supermajorities in the House and Senate to override it.
That would seem highly unlikely, since the Democrats and several key Republicans scoffed at the idea, and it's unlikely any sequester-replacement plan will be approved by Friday.
Democrats saw the proposal as a tactic to lay public blame on the president by forcing him to choose the cuts, instead of following the across-the-board sequester procedure.
Senate majority leader Harry Reid said on Wednesday that he didn’t see Democrats wanting a temporary handoff involving “the power of the purse” to the executive branch.
“They are trying to rearrange the deck chairs on the sinking Titanic,” he said.
On the Senate floor, McConnell said the depiction that he was angling for Congress to give up some constitutional powers wasn’t accurate.
“But let’s be clear about the goal here,” McConnell said. “The goal isn’t to hand over congressional authority. It’s to make sure these cuts actually happen.”
Republican Senator John McCain was a vocal opponent of the McConnell plan and another similar plan on Tuesday.
“Congress has a constitutional responsibility to authorize and appropriate for the nation’s security,” he said.
The plan may be one of four the Republicans are considering. Only one can be presented for a floor vote on Thursday. And as of Wednesday, all four seem doomed, along with a Democratic proposal.
President Obama has called for a meeting with the top four leaders from Congress on Friday, hours after the sequester cuts will go into effect.
The next big deadline for Congress and the White House, assuming the sequester goes into effect on Friday, is March 27. That’s when stopgap budget funding for federal government operations runs out and the government faces a possible shutdown.
Negotiations over the sequester are expected to be rolled into talks about a new budget and a federal government shutdown, which would have wide-ranging implications.
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