Sen. Toomey offers bill to soften sequester

Proposal would authorize Obama to choose where to cut


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WASHINGTON -- Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey is an architect of a GOP proposal that would allow deep automatic spending cuts to take effect Friday but authorize the president to choose where to chop and where to trim.

Mr. Toomey and Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla, expect to introduce their bill today, but it's already under attack by Democrats and some fellow Republicans, who have their own ideas for how to address $85 billion in automatic spending cuts known as the sequester.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said he will allow each caucus to offer only one alternative for an up-or-down vote.

None of the proposals that have emerged so far appears likely to receive enough votes to pass in the Senate.

The Toomey-Inhofe legislation would maintain the overall size of the sequester but would 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. "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."

Republicans including Sen. John McCain of Arizona have said that kind of approach relinquishes congressional budgetary authority to the president.

"I say to my Republican friends, if you want to just give the president flexibility as how to enact these cuts in defense spending, then why don't we go home and just give him the money?" Mr. McCain said Sunday during an appearance on CNN.

Mr. Toomey said he tried to ease that concern by including a provision that would give Congress final approval over the cuts President Barack Obama would decide to impose.

"I understand [Mr. McCain's] 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."

Democrats say it's inconsistent for senators who have criticized the president's spending priorities to now want to give him more discretion.

Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, said Republicans are 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.

"There is nothing that Sen. Toomey is doing that improves the situation," Mr. Doyle said. "It's like saying, 'We're going to cut off one of your fingers, but you get to choose which finger.' "

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.

He and other Democrats say the GOP is putting the interests of the wealthy ahead of the needs of the rest of the country by allowing cuts that will reduce essential government services such as funding to Head Start early education, vaccination programs, meat inspections, airport security checks and much more.

"There's no smart way" to cut $85 billion in seven months, Mr. Obama said Tuesday during a public appearance in Newport News, Va. "Do I choose between funding for the disabled kid or the poor kid? Do I close this Navy shipyard or some other one?"

He's looking for additional revenue by closing "wasteful" loopholes and ending deductions he says help only the wealthiest. In exchange, he's willing to cut $930 billion in spending over that period.

The administration has said that if the poor and middle class have to suffer by losing services in order to reduce debt then the wealthy should contribute, too, and that means them paying higher taxes.

Republicans say the rich already are paying more than their fair share.

"Spending always ultimately gets paid for by confiscating [money] from the more productive private sector," Mr. Toomey said during a Senate Budget Committee hearing Tuesday.

Republicans are adamant that they won't let that happen this time.

"The administration can either go ahead and make very disruptive spending cuts ... or they could support my legislation, which would give them the flexibility and the authority to do this in a way that is least disruptive and does the least harm," Mr. Toomey told reporters Tuesday evening.

"I don't think there's going to be any grand bargain" to avoid the sequester entirely, he said.

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Washington bureau chief Tracie Mauriello: tmauriello@post-gazette.com or 703-996-9292. First Published February 27, 2013 5:00 AM


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