It’s well known that Republicans are divided over whether they should drag out a sequestration fight with President Obama, or meet him part way by agreeing to new tax revenues.
But the divisions actually run deeper than that.
The Senate was scheduled to vote Thursday on two sequestration alternatives — one authored by Democrats and the other authored by Republicans. The Democratic bill would replace sequestration with a mix of higher taxes on wealthy Americans and cuts to defense and agriculture spending. The GOP plan with the most support behind it is a plan that would provide the Obama administration some flexibility to apply sequestration in a less indiscriminate manner.
But the vote on a Republican alternative appears likely to be delayed because as of Tuesday afternoon, Senate Republicans couldn’t agree among themselves on whether or how to proceed.
“I would be happy to give the President more flexibility and rely on the agency heads to apportion the amount of spending reduction in a different way than the sequester [requires],” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told reporters at his weekly Capitol briefing. “There are some members of our conference who are suspicious of the administration taking advantage of such flexibility — would seek to punish their political enemies. So there are differences of opinions about that.”
Some senators, including John McCain (R-AZ), would like to avoid ceding this kind of power to Obama and pay down the sequester directly by cutting the federal workforce instead.
“We haven’t decided yet how many alternatives we will offer later this week,” McConnell said. “That matter is still under discussion in our conference. We’ll see how many votes we’ll have.”
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) isn’t going to let McConnell bandage GOP wounds by guaranteeing them votes on more than on sequestration alternative.
“No. No. The agreement was they would have a bill, we’ll have a bill. It’s been enough,” he told reporters Tuesday at his own Capitol briefing.
Neither plan is expected to pass in any event. But if McConnell can’t align the GOP behind one bill, it could slow down the process such that Democrats can’t secure a Senate vote on their own plan until after sequestration has been ordered on March 1.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.