WASHINGTON -- With automatic budget cuts set to kick in Friday, a group of progressive Democrats in the House has launched a late-game bid to repeal the so-called sequestration, arguing that Congress should scrap the cuts entirely if it can't agree on a suitable replacement.
Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) introduced a one-sentence bill on Thursday entitled the "Cancel the Sequester Act of 2013," which would eliminate the $85 billion in cuts looming at week's end as part of the $1.2 trillion in defense and non-defense cuts that Congress imposed on itself over the next decade with the Budget Control Act of 2011. According to Conyers' office, Reps. Sheila Lee Jackson (D-Texas) and Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) will co-sponsor the repeal bill, and many members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus are expected to follow suit.
"If Congress can’t or won’t come together to craft bipartisan agreement, I believe we have a duty to avert these catastrophic cuts by any means necessary," Conyers told HuffPost in an email. The repeal bill "would give the leaders of both parties the time needed to reach some consensus on budget issues without forcing the average American to pay the price for Washington’s dysfunction."
The idea to simply repeal the sequester isn't entirely new. Progressive Democrats have been floating the proposal in recent days, and the AFL-CIO labor federation issued a statement on Wednesday urging Congress to wipe the slate clean and regroup -- a show of support for sequester repeal that helped spur the bill's introduction on Thursday, according to Conyer's office.
Conyers and his co-sponsors appear to have the same rationale for repeal that the AFL-CIO put forth: Few lawmakers seem to believe the sequester itself is prudent, so why not spike it and go back to the drawing board?
"If we can't find a solution before these cuts hit, we should eliminate it altogether," said Jeremy Slevin, a spokesman for Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a co-chair of the progressive caucus.
"Our preference is to have a balanced approach to get [a] one-to-one" ratio of program cuts to revenue raising, Slevin went on. "But short of that we don't think under any circumstances that the American people should lose their jobs because of Congress."
A full-on sequester repeal, however, remains a political long shot. Republicans would be loath to sacrifice the leverage the sequester gives them in pushing for domestic spending cuts, while many Democrats would fear the political blowback of voting to walk away from the sequester and the hard choices it brings. Even though the sequester deadline is Friday March 1, it could technically be repealed after the fact.
Democrats and Republicans in the Senate put forth vying plans to deal with the sequester on Thursday, both of which predictably failed. Democrats suggested a mixture of spending cuts and revenue hikes that would replace the sequester for ten months, while Republicans wanted to keep the sequester in place while giving the president more leeway in how the cuts were enacted. Senate Republicans said raising revenue was off the table.
Despite the slim chances for repeal, Conyers and other boosters for the idea are hoping to find allies among organized labor and other progressive factions defending entitlement programs, and perhaps even some staunch backers of defense spending on the other side of the aisle.
"We could pass it at any time retroactively," Slevin said. "It doesn't mean we'd have to do it by [Friday], but we think Congress should act with that kind of urgency."