First, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) accused the Senate of sitting on its "ass" instead of passing a plan to avert the $85 billion in spending cuts known as the sequester Friday. Now Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) says it's in fact the House that's "sitting on their posterior."
"I think he should understand who is sitting on their posterior. We’re doing our best here to pass something. The speaker's doing nothing to try to pass anything over there," he said.
Reid told reporters that Senate Democrats will move a bill later this week that would turn off much of the across-the-board cuts with a combination of other cuts and tax increases, including a new minimum tax rate for those making more than $5 million a year. "The only thing stopping this bill from passing is yet another Republican filibuster," Reid said, asserting the bill will get at least 50 votes. It will fail, however, because it will not get the 60 votes needed to head off a filibuster.
Boehner, however, has indicated he will not advance a new sequester bill this week, insisting the House acted twice on Republican ideas last year, and now the Senate must move.
Lawmakers on both sides expect none of Congress' political theater to result in action to avert the cuts before Friday. On Tuesday, even the theater was threatening to fall apart, as Senate Republicans appeared to be having trouble coalescing around an alternative to the Democrats' measure.
The parties had informally agreed they would hold two votes, one on a Democratic bill and one later this week on a proposal advanced by Republicans. Republican leaders would like theirs to leave the scale of the cuts in place but offer President Obama new flexibility to implement the across-the-board reductions.
But Sen. John McCain (R-Arix.), Sen. Lindsey Graham and others oppose handing over Congress' traditional appropriating power to the White House. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters Tuesday that as a result, Republicans may seek to advance several alternatives to the Democrats' bill--a maneuver Reid is unlikely to allow.
"I would be happy to give the president more flexibility and allow the agency heads to apportion the reductions in a different way than the sequester envisioned," McConnell said. "There are some members of our conference who are suspicious that the administration would take advantage of such flexibility would seek to punish their political enemies."
"There are different opinions about that. We’re continuing to discuss all of this within our conference and we’ll let you know when we decide what we’re going to offer," he said.
Regardless, Republicans broadly showed no interest in plans of the kind Obama has urged, which would use new tax revenues to offset a part of the cuts.
"It seems to me that the president is running around the country, crying wolf, saying that the sky is falling, all in an effort to try to scare Congress and to scare the American people into doing what he wants--which is to raise taxes," said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wy.) "And we’re not buying it."