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Dems: ‘Balanced' bill to stave off sequester

Feb. 14, 2013 - 06:49PM   |   Last Updated: Feb. 14, 2013 - 06:49PM  |  
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WASHINGTON — Senate Democratic leaders on Thursday rolled out their much-anticipated measure to void the first wave of pending cuts to planned defense and domestic spending.

The Democrats' bill covers only the remainder of fiscal 2013, and calls for $55 billion in spending cuts and $54 billion in new tax revenue. It reflects the kind of "balanced approach" long called for by President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats.

The legislation calls for the cuts to be split between national defense accounts and non-defense accounts. It would slash Pentagon spending by $27.5 billion in fiscal 2013, with an identical amount coming by terminating some agriculture subsidies.

It is expected to be taken up by the full Senate early in the week of Feb. 25, after the chamber returns from a week-long recess.

Soon after Democrats announced the contents of the legislation, hurdles began to emerge.

Liberal Democratic senators told reporters the measure should require more revenues.

Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said members of her caucus, despite their revenue desires, ultimately will vote for the measure.

But if Republicans require 60 votes to end debate, it could be dead in the water.

"That's a gimmicky tax-hike bill. That's not going to be supported by Republicans," Don Stewart, a senior aide to Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters. "It's not going to be supported even by all the Democrats. ... They have no intention of actually passing it."

Stewart criticized Democratic leaders for waiting until 15 days before the sequestration cuts are set to go into effect before crafting a bill to avoid the first year of them. And he panned the White House for not starting talks with Republicans that now appear destined to begin again just before Washington faces a fiscal deadline.

"The White House hasn't talked to us since New Years Eve. Nobody," Stewart said.

"That's how serious they are," Steward said, adding, "When all of these people are screaming at you about defense cuts, tell them to call the White House and tell them to get serious."

When asked why McConnell doesn't call the White House to begin talks, Stewart did not respond.

Because the Democrats' bill calls for a sizable amount of Pentagon cuts, GOP hawks likely are another hurdle.

Asked why he wouldn't support the Senate Democrats' amount of defense cuts, which would be smaller than the sequester cuts, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. said sternly: "I'm prepared to go down fighting."

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