Sequestered together: Senators Harry Reid (left, politically and spatially) and Mitch McConnell (right, same), need to make a deal, but really don't want to. IMAGE: AP
All those horrible things that Obama has been warning about if the sequester cuts hit--they might actually happen. The Senate held two votes on bills that would replace the sequester cuts with an actual plan, but both failed. Republicans brought forward a bill that would have delegated much of the specifics of the cuts to the Obama Administration while placing a cap on how much of those cuts could go toward defense. Democrats rejected that one for having no new revenues, for pushing the unpopular sequester cuts onto Obama, and because it was The Republican Plan.
Sen. Mark Warner (Va.) was the only Democrat who voted for the GOP bill. Republicans John McCain (Ariz.), Mike Lee (Utah), Rand Paul (Ky.), Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Dean Heller (Nev.), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Susan Collins (Maine) voted against the GOP bill, which failed 38-62. Ayotte proposed an alternate bill with better protections for defense, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said that he would only allow one Republican bill to come to the floor and they would only get a second one if they would allow for an up-or-down vote on the Democratic bill, as opposed to a 60 vote threshold.
Republicans rejected that offer, and because they did, the Democrats bill also failed: it got 51 votes for, 49 against. Democrats Mary Landrieu (La.), Mark Pryor (Ark.) and Kay Hagan (N.C.), all voted no, because they are facing tough reelection battles in 2014 as Democrats in conservative states. Reid also voted no in a procedural move that will allow him to bring up the bill again later. No Republicans voted for the bill, because it raised taxes on millionairres, and, according to Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Democrats already got their tax increase on the fiscal cliff negotiations.
McConnell pulled the classic “Look: the American people will simply not accept replacing spending cuts agreed to by both parties with tax hikes. And I plan to make all of this clear to the president when I meet with him tomorrow.” Sure, Republicans don't like anything involving taxes going up, but "the American people?" does he have some recent polling we could look at? I think Americans are generally okay with taxing millionaires a little more, especially if it's Buffett rule-style loophole closing, so that millionaires wouldn't pay less than their secretaries in taxes.
How about the House? Might they pass a bill? If Speaker of the House John Boehner is to be believed, they won't even vote on a bill until the Senate passes something. Boehner says that this is because the House already passed two bills, and it's time for the Senate to "get off their ass" and do something, but those bills are now null and void, because they passed before the beginning of this session of Congress, so it is in fact Boehner who is now sitting on his ass, so to speak.
Interestingly, if Boehner did the same deal as Reid: one bill from the Democrats, one from the Republicans, either bill might pass the closely-divided, but Republican-controlled House. It's unclear what bill Republicans would bring forward, but one from Democrat Chris Van Hollen (Md.) would have a reasonable shot of passing.
I've said all along that there will be too much pressure from too many sources for the sequester to actually happen. Now I'm getting skeptical, but every self-induced Washington crisis of the last two years has been "resolved" at the final hour, or just after, so this one could still happen.
In conclusion: Washington. WTF?