WASHINGTON -- House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) served notice Thursday that the deep cuts under the federal budget sequestration are here to stay as Senate Republicans filibustered a bipartisan bill to fund transportation, housing and urban development.
The Senate legislation, which had passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee with six GOP votes last month, aimed to set the funding for those programs at levels agreed to under the 2011 Budget Control Act -- that is, taking into account the 2011 cuts but assuming that Congress would find some way to replace the more recent sequestration cuts. The bill would spend $51.7 billion.
But five of those Republicans changed their minds and blocked the bill in a 54-43 vote Thursday, denying the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster. McConnell had lobbied for the filibuster for days and repeated his position just before the vote, saying that Congress must abide by the spending levels of the sequester.
Just a day earlier, Boehner had pulled the House version of the legislation from consideration amid concerns from Democrats and some members of his own party that it cut too deeply. It aimed to set spending on roads, bridges, housing, community development block grants and other efforts at $44.1 billion -- $4.1 billion below this year's sequestration level -- as was envisioned in the House budget plan from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) earlier this year.
Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, complained Wednesday that the failure of Republicans to agree on the reduced spending meant the House had "declined to proceed on the implementation of the very budget it adopted three months ago." He added that the failure showed the sequester cuts are "ill-conceived" and need to be replaced.
But Boehner nixed that idea at his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill Thursday, putting the responsibility on President Barack Obama to agree to GOP demands for cuts.
"I want to make clear sequestration is going to remain in effect until the president agrees to some reforms that allow us to remove it," Boehner said. "The president insisted on the sequester. None of us want it. None of us like it. There are smarter ways to cut spending."
He argued that the GOP has twice voted to replace the sequester. However, the House seeks to do so by boosting defense at the expense of domestic programs, and Obama and Senate Democrats have objected to what they see as a one-sided approach. Obama has suggested the outlines of a replacement plan with entitlement cuts disliked by his own party. Republicans have turned thumbs down on that plan because it includes some tax hikes.
Senate Republicans earlier this year also filibustered a bill that would replace the sequester on the grounds that by closing loopholes, it would raise some taxes.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated this week that leaving the sequester in place will cost up to 1.6 million jobs next year and suppress economic growth.
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.