Senate Republicans have filibustered a Democratic bill that would pay down sequestration's indiscriminate spending cuts for a year.
Though the vote outcome was never in doubt, the legislation's demise assures that Congress will miss Friday's sequestration deadline, and federal agencies will begin cutting projects and services.
The final vote was 51-49. It needed 60 votes to pass. Sens. Kay Hagan (D-NC), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), and Mark Pryor (D-AR) voted with a unified GOP conference to block the bill. All three face tough elections in 2014. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also switched his vote from yes to no — a procedural maneuver that preserves his right to call the measure up for a vote again quickly in the future.
If the bill would have become law, it would have replaced tens of billions of dollars in spending cuts set to take place this year with 10 years' worth of deficit reducing tax increases and targeted spending cuts. The revenue would have come largely from individuals making over $5 million a year, by imposing a minimum "Buffett Rule" tax on their earnings. The cuts would have been divided evenly between agriculture subsidies and defense spending.
Democrats also blocked a GOP-sponsored plan to modify sequestration by providing federal agency heads with some authority to reallocate the cuts. Under current law, affected agencies must cut each of their programs by the same percentage before the end of the year. The Republican bill likewise needed 60 votes to pass; however, it did not achieve majority support. It failed 38-62, with nine Republicans — Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Susan Collins (R-ME), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Dean Heller (R-NV) Mike Lee (UT), John McCain (R-AZ), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Marco Rubio (R-FL) — crossing the aisle. Two Democrats — Sens. Max Baucus (D-MT), and Mark Warner (D-VA) — voted with the GOP minority.
With both the House and Senate now out of session, and no legislation on the docket in either chamber to address sequestration, the Obama administration will be forced to issue the order on Friday. President Obama has invited congressional leaders to the White House tomorrow to discuss sequestration, but officials from both parties predict the event will yield little progress.
As the cuts roll out, House Republicans will ready legislation to renew funding for federal agencies, which expires altogether at the end of March, irrespective of sequestration. That legislation — known as a continuing resolution — could reach the House floor as early as next week. And depending upon how it's constructed, it could determine how the fight over sequestration ultimately comes to an end.