WASHINGTON (AP) — Squabbling away the hours, the Senate swatted aside last-ditch plans to block $85 billion in broad-based federal spending reductions Thursday as Republicans and Democrats blamed each other for the latest outbreak of gridlock and the Obama administration readied plans to put the cuts into effect.
So entrenched were the two parties that the Senate chaplain, Barry Black, opened the day’s session with a prayer that beseeched a higher power to intervene.
“Rise up, O God, and save us from ourselves,” he said of cuts due to take effect sometime on Friday.
The immediate impact of the reductions on the public was uncertain, and the administration pulled back on its earlier warnings of long lines developing quickly at airports and teacher layoffs affecting classrooms.
On the Senate floor, a Republican proposal requiring Obama to propose alternative cuts that would cause less disruption in essential government services fell to overwhelming Democratic opposition, 62-38.
Moments later, a Democratic alternative to spread the cuts over a decade and replace half with higher taxes on millionaires and corporations won a bare majority, 51-49, but that was well shy of the 60 needed to advance. Republicans opposed it without exception.
Though furloughs are a fear for some, especially certain federal workers, there is little sign of business worry, let alone panic in the nation. Stocks declined slightly for the day after trading near record highs. And unlike the “fiscal cliff” showdown of two months ago, there are no deadlines for action to prevent tax increases from hitting nearly every American.
Still, there was talk of crisis.
“We have the opportunity to avoid the kind of calamity and disaster that is being threatened and is completely unnecessary,” said Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who co-authored the Republican proposal.
“The question is, are we going to achieve these savings through badly designed spending cuts that make no attempt whatever to distinguish between more sensible government spending and less sensible spending?”
Sen. Patty Murray of Washington said that was precisely what Democrats had tried to do by proposing the deferral of Pentagon cuts until U.S. combat troops have come home from Afghanistan in two years’ time.
At the same time, she said the Democrats had reasonably proposed replacing half of the pending cuts with higher taxes on “the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations.”
Across the Capitol, House Speaker John Boehner led the chorus of Republican critics, saying that “Obama and Senate Democrats are demanding more tax hikes to fuel more ‘stimulus’ spending.”
In fact, the Democratic measure included small increases for a variety of small programs such as biodiesel education, assistance for biomass crops and certification of organic foods.
With no last-minute plans to seek a delay in the looming cuts, Obama invited Boehner and the other top leaders of Congress to a White House meeting on the subject on Friday.
It was not clear whether he would seek negotiations to replace the across-the-board cuts before they begin to bite.