Monday, February 11, 2013

Senate Democrats craft bill to avert budget cuts

WASHINGTON (AP) ? Top Senate Democrats have prepared a plan to slice the Pentagon's budget by $3 billion a year in an attempt to avoid far steeper cuts that defense hawks warn would cripple the military.

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., hopes to stage a vote on the measure before $85 billion in automatic budget cuts start to take effect in March. The bill is expected to produce about $120 billion in deficit savings over the coming decade, enough to block the automatic cuts through the end of the calendar year.

But Republicans are likely to block the measure because it contains a 10-year, $47 billion tax increase known as the "Buffett Rule" that would require people with million-dollar incomes to pay a minimum 30 percent income tax. The rule is named after billionaire investor Warren Buffett.

The measure would also raise about $24 billion by cutting much-criticized direct payments to farmers.

Republicans vow that they won't accept tax revenues as part of any deal with President Barack Obama to shut off the so-called sequester, which would require across-the-board cuts of 5 percent to domestic programs and 8 percent to the Pentagon. The cuts, called a sequester in Washington-speak, are the result of the failure of the 2011 budget "supercommittee" to agree on a deficit-cutting pact.

"Absolutely none. The president's accepted no spending cuts back in the fiscal cliff deal 45 days ago," Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday. "Then you're going to get no revenue now."

House Republicans do not have a rival plan to shut off the cuts and instead point to a plan that passed twice last year, most recently by a slender 215-209 vote in December. The GOP now controls eight fewer seats in the House and there's hardening sentiment among some tea party Republicans to allow the sequester to take effect. So it's not clear that GOP leaders like Speaker John Boehner of Ohio could muster enough support to stop the sequester before it takes effect March 1.

Republicans have instead focused their energies on a PR campaign saying the sequester idea had its origins in the White House in the summer of 2011.

For its part, the White House says it supports a short-term measure to avert the sequester but hasn't offered any suggestions on what elements should be in it.

Democratic aides say the Senate plan is unofficial but is expected to be released later this week. The aides required anonymity since the plan isn't public.


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