By Susan Davis, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate failed to pass both Republican and Democratic alternatives to head off across-the-board spending cuts, further ensuring Washington will blow past a Friday deadline to avoid or replace $85 billion in cuts that threaten economic growth, military readiness and jobs.
The Democratic alternative would have replaced the cuts, known as the sequester, through 2013 with a combination of a minimum 30% tax on millionaires and cuts to defense and farm programs. It failed 51-49.
The Republican alternative would have transferred sweeping authority to President Obama to force him to determine how to implement $85 billion in cuts instead of the across-the-board spending cut affecting most reaches of the federal government. The sequester exempts military personnel accounts and the social safety net including Social Security and Medicare. The GOP measure also failed, 38-62
Both proposals needed a 60-vote super majority to pass, but either vehicle was dead from the start. The GOP-controlled House opposes the Senate Democrats' proposal because it raises taxes. GOP lawmakers do not support using new taxes to turn off the sequester; rather they are seeking alternative spending cuts and entitlement reforms.
The White House said the president would veto the Senate GOP proposal. "The best way to go about this is to postpone the sequester or agree to a bigger deal that eliminates it entirely in a balanced way," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
After a two-month sequester delay agreed to in a January tax deal, the cuts are scheduled to start kicking in March 1. There is about $85 billion in cuts scheduled through Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year. In total, the sequester will trim $1.2 trillion in spending across the federal government over the next decade if left untouched.
The cutting mechanism is an unpopular budget tool that was included as a fail-safe in a 2011 budget law that required Congress to find $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction on their own. When they failed to do so in December 2011, they started a one-year countdown to the automatic cuts. In the past year, Congress and the White House have been unable to come up with an alternative to the sequester, or reach a long-term budget deal that would allow them to turn it off.
The president and congressional leaders will make a final attempt at a pre-deadline compromise at a White House meeting Friday morning, but top lawmakers conceded the prospects were dim for a deal in the short-term. "Hopefully, by the end of March, people will see the light and understand that we're not standing for this," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.