By Kasie Hunt, NBC News
Senate Democrats on Thursday proposed a plan to put off dramatic cuts to the Defense Department and a host of popular government programs until next January.
Democrats agreed on an approximately $110 billion package — half tax increases and half spending cuts — during a caucus meeting at the Capitol. Their goal is to temporarily avert the looming sequester, set for March 1, by ending agricultural subsidies — saving the government an estimated $27.5 billion — and cutting defense by the same amount through 2021.
The move comes after weeks of lawmakers and the White House playing the blame game, with both sides claiming the sequester was the other party’s idea. The sequester was designed as a way to force lawmakers to make a grand budget deal: It would, the theory went, so dramatically hurt the military and other popular government programs that everyone would want to stop it.
But in its current form, the Democrats’ plan is likely a nonstarter. Before the details were even announced, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell dismissed it as “a total waste of time.”
“This is not a solution — even they know it can’t pass,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Thursday.
That’s in part because it includes approximately $54 billion in new taxes on millionaires, according to Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office, raising the money by implementing a policy named after billionaire Warren Buffett. It would require millionaires to pay at least 30 percent of their income in taxes.
Also included in the plan is $2 billion from closing a tax loophole that oil companies enjoy. The Democrats’ plan doesn’t include any changes to entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security.
Republicans have said they won’t accept a deal that includes new taxes after the recent deal to avert the fiscal cliff included higher tax rates for wealthier Americans.
The White House issued a statement in support of the Democrats’ plan.
“The American people overwhelmingly support the approach Senate Democrats are taking, especially the ‘Buffett Rule,'” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement. “It’s simply unacceptable that the very wealthiest Americans can pay less in taxes as a share of their income than their secretaries and other middle class workers.”
House Republicans are even less likely than their Senate counterparts to accept a sequester package that includes new taxes. Republican House Speaker John Boehner has said his chamber won’t act until after the Senate passes a bill.
As the March 1 deadline approaches, government agencies are increasingly sounding the alarm about the impact the budget cuts could have. Cabinet secretaries were on Capitol Hill Thursday warning that if the sequester were to go into effect, the country would have fewer guards on the southern border, face deep cuts to early childhood education and be less prepared to defend itself.
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