WASHINGTON -- Republicans are poised to allow deep automatic spending cuts to take effect Friday but are trying to come up with a plan that would take away the harshest sting of the reductions.
One plan, which Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican, co-wrote with Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., would maintain the overall size of the spending reductions but authorize the White House to decide where to cut within broad categories.
As it stands, defense spending would be cut by 13 percent and most other departments and programs would be cut uniformly by about 9 percent over the next seven months.
"It gives no discretion to the managers of the agencies or the administration -- or anyone, for that matter -- to decide which of these programs has greater importance, greater urgency than another," Mr. Toomey said today. "There are any number of contrasts and comparisons you could make but, in my view, a government subsidy to Solyndra wouldn't be as high a priority as maintaining air-traffic controllers."
He expects to introduce the legislation Wednesday, but already it's being criticized by both Democrats and Republicans, some of whom have their own ideas about how to address the automatic sequester -- or the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts set to go into effect Friday.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said he will allow each caucus to put forth only one plan for an up-or-down vote.
Democrats don't like the Toomey-Inhofe plan because it would lock in $85 billion in cuts over the next seven months without adding any revenue. They want to raise taxes by closing loopholes that help the rich.
Republicans including Sen. John McCain of Arizona say the approach relinquishes congressional budgetary authority to the president.
Mr. Toomey said he tried to ameliorate that concern by including a provision that would give Congress final approval over the cuts President Barack Obama would decide to impose.
"I understand his point, and this is why I have consistently said the Senate ought to do its work. We haven't been doing budgets these past two years," he said.
"We shouldn't be governing by crisis and governing by [fiscal] cliff. I wish we weren't in this position ... but I'm dealing with the reality that faces us on Friday morning," he said. "I'm trying to make a bad situation less bad."
Critics of the Toomey-Inhofe proposal are asking why two senators who have been critical of the president's spending priorities would want to give Mr. Obama more discretion.
U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, says they're playing politics by forcing the president to take the blame for cuts he's being forced to make. "When the cuts start to affect people they want to be able to say, 'The president had the flexibility not to do this to you,' " he said.
Mr. Obama wants more than the ability to choose where to cut. He also wants more money on the table so he won't have to cut so much. He wants to raise $580 billion in revenue over the next 10 years by closing loopholes and stopping deductions that help the wealthiest taxpayers.
Washington Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: firstname.lastname@example.org or 703-996-9292.