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Votes on Sequester Bills Set Amid Gloom in Senate

Marlon Correa/The Washington PostUPDATE: The last legislative hopes in Congress to avoid the sequester cuts have both failed.

Neither the Senate Democratic or Republican version of the sequester alterative plans, put to a test vote Thursday afternoon, were expected to move forward.

But on the eve of the $85 billion worth of across-the-board cuts set to kick in, failure of the last two bills under consideration in Congress to avoid the cuts is still significant – as there is currently no legislative way out on the table as of now and the cuts seem almost certain to happen.

By a vote of 38-62 the Senate rejected the Republicans’ plan. Nine Republicans voted against their party’s plan.  Two Democrats voted for the Republican bill.

And by a vote of 51-49 the Senate Democrats’ plan failed to move forward. Four Democrats voted against their party’s plan.

(WASHINGTON) -- On the eve of sequestration, there’s a tone in the air on Capitol Hill of surrender -- even from the Senate Chaplain who offered a poignant prayer Thursday morning for Senators.

“As we anticipate an across-the-board budget cuts across our land, we still expect to see your goodness prevail,” Senate Chaplain Barry Black prayed on the Senate floor Thursday morning. “Oh God, and save us from ourselves.”

Publicly in the Senate on Thursday both Republicans and Democrats will look busy -- each will have a vote Thursday afternoon on their respective alternative plans to avoid the $85 billion worth of automatic and across the board spending cuts set to kick in Friday night at midnight. But both plans are expected to fail -- the maneuvers Thursday on Capitol Hill will have more to do with political cover than actual solutions.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, said that it is not too late to avoid the sequester cuts, and called for support for the Senate Democratic bill that will face a test vote Thursday afternoon in the Senate.

“We believe we have a balanced plan, fully paid for. Our proposal would reduce the deficit by making smart spending cuts,” Reid said Thursday on the Senate floor.

The Senate Democrats $110 billion plan would stop the sequester cuts from happening before year’s end -- replacing some of the cuts by spending reductions on farm and defense programs, and includes tax increases on wealthy Americans and the oil and gas industry.

Republicans have called the Senate Democrats’ plan a “gimmick.”

“It isn't a plan at all, it’s a gimmick,” Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, said Thursday, “(the plan) does more to perpetuate the culture of irresponsibility around here than it does to fix a culture of spending that Washington democrats claim to be concerned about.”

The Republicans’ plan to avoid the sequester would give President Obama the authority to propose a rewrite to the 2013 budget and redistribute the expected cuts and will also face a test vote Thursday afternoon in the Senate.

“It's about giving agency heads greater flexibility to ensure sequester cuts are implemented in a smarter way,” McConnell said, vouching for the Republicans’ plan Thursday. “Mr. President, I think a lot of people who voted for you think that's your job to make those tough decisions, especially tough decisions to implement the plan you yourself proposed and insisted upon. Surely you can find a little more than 2 percent to cut from the federal budget. And surely you can do it without raining down a phony Armageddon on American families.”

Reid responded, criticizing the Republicans’ plan for “embracing the cuts” and “abandoning any of the responsibility that goes along with them.”

“(It) would be like you're told you have to have three fingers cut off and their proposal is to send this to the president and have him decide which finger is going to go first. Republicans call the plan flexibility. Let’s call it what it is. It is a punt.”

Senator Cornyn, R-Texas, said the president and Democrats are drinking the “beltway kool-aid” because the disaster that the administration predicts will come Friday with these cuts will not occur as hyped.

“Let’s put responsibility where it really lies. The sequester was the president's idea in the first place. As much as he and his press secretary and staff try to deny it, the fact of the matter is, Bob Woodward has made the point that they told him that it was their idea, as he wrote in his most recent book,” he said.

The top four Congressional leaders will meet with President Obama on Friday, the first time the leaders have formally gathered to discuss the looming budget cuts.

“The American people will simply not accept replacing spending cuts agreed to by both parties with tax hikes and I  plan to make all of this clear to the president when I meet with him tomorrow,” McConnell said. “He already got hundreds of billions of dollars in new revenue earlier this year when the tax law expired. Now it's time for the balanced part of the equation.”

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