Update: 4:46 P.M.
Amid GOP complaints about airport delays caused by sequestration, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said he intends to promptly introduce legislation to use war savings to pay down automatic, across the board spending cuts for five months.
“I think we should do something about sequestration. It’s important we do,” he told reporters at his weekly Capitol briefing. “We should do what was in one of the Ryan budgets, and that is use the overseas contingency fund to delay the implementation of sequestration. We could do it for five months. During this five month period, we could come up with something longer-term.”The Overseas Contingency Operation (OCO) fund contains approximately half a trillion unspent dollars, thanks to troop drawdowns from Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years. House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) proposals assume a declining trajectory of OCO spending as estimated by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
“There’s about $650 billion there,” Reid said. “Let’s use a small part of that to delay sequestration for five months. We’re going to move to that later this afternoon.”
The move leaves Republicans with a tough choice. Outside the context of the Ryan budget, they have routinely opposed using OCO funds for anything other than deficit reduction, dismissing the idea as a budget gimmick. But amid complaints from middle class constituents inconvenienced by air-traffic delays, they may have a hard time blocking a measure that promises temporarily and painless relief.
Moments before Reid’s remarks, Senate Republican leaders expressed their outrage over airport delays and accused the administration of deliberately mismanaging the Federal Aviation Administration in order to inflict pain and persuade the GOP to agree to new taxes.
“It’s meant to impact in the most negative way possible on the air traveling public,” said Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX). “Why the president, why the administration, would want to impose this sort of hardship on million of Americans … is beyond me.”
The majority leader signaled he wants to advance the measure alongside online sales tax legislation currently pending on the floor. But he may need Republican consent to do that — if they object Reid will either have to take further measures to advance his sequestration plan right away, or put off action on it until early next month.
“We can do two things at once,” Reid said.
Top Republican aides swiftly pushed back on Reid’s plan after it was reported.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) office told TPM that it shows Reid is rebuffing President Obama’s insistence that a sequester delay plan include tax revenues.
“Remember, the White House said they won’t accept any sequester replacement that that doesn’t include even more taxes,” McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said in an email. “Sen. Reid is rejecting that ransom and making clear that Democrats in the Senate are willing to replace the spending cuts in the sequester with other spending cuts.”
Meanwhile, Ryan’s spokesman William Allison disputed the contention that the House budget chief’s blueprints rely on war savings. “Senator Reid is absolutely incorrect,” he said in an email. “Not a single penny of claimed spending reductions in any of the recent budgets put forward by House Republicans come from this gimmick.”