WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Senate last week rejected rival Democratic and Republican proposals aimed at avoiding $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts that otherwise were set to launch.
Facing a Friday deadline, Senate Democrats proposed to avoid half of the spending cuts by raising taxes on those earning more than $1 million a year. The remainder would be cut from defense programs and farm subsidies.
Democrats advertised their bill as a “balance” between spending cuts and tax increases to avert the budget sequester. Republicans said they would oppose any bill containing tax hikes.
The Democratic proposal did not garner the 60-vote majority needed to move forward, falling 51-49 with no Republican voting in favor. Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., voted for the bill.
Senate Republicans proposed an alternative that would have given the Obama administration more flexibility in parsing out the $85 billion in cuts. It would have allowed President Barack Obama to shift defense cuts to other programs to limit impact on national security. The bill failed, 38-62, with two Democrats voting for it and eight Republicans against it.
Cantwell and Murray voted against the GOP alternative.
The Senate confirmed former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., as defense secretary after a contentious and drawn out debate.
Four Republicans joined Democrats in supporting President Obama’s choice to replace outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. The vote was 58-41.
Hagel is the first Vietnam Veteran to hold the post and one of only a handful of defense secretaries who served in the military as an enlisted man.
Republican opposition to Hagel focused largely on statements he had made about the Middle East. They questioned his level of support for Israel and his opposition to Iran, Israeli’s chief foe that wants to develop nuclear weapons.
“He was one of only two (senators) that voted against sanctions for Iran, one of only four that voted against an effort to make the Iran Revolutionary Guard a terrorist group,” said Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla.
Obama issued a statement after the confirmation saying he would be counting on Hagel’s “judgment and counsel” as the war in Afghanistan comes to a close.
Cantwell and Murray voted in favor of Hagel.
The Senate confirmed Obama’s former chief of staff Jack Lew as treasury secretary. Senators voted 71-26 to confirm Lew to succeed Timothy Geithner, who stepped down on Jan. 25.
Republican opponents raised concerns about Lew’s past employment as a Citigroup executive and his role in drafting budgets under Obama. He had been budget director before being named chief of staff.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an Independent who caucuses with Democrats, also opposed Lew saying he feared Lew’s ties to CitiCorp would make him ill suited to stand up to “the enormous power of Wall Street.”
Cantwell and Murray voted in favor of Lew.
Violence Against Women Act
The House voted to extend and expand the nation’s domestic violence law. Created in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act funds anti-abuse programs and establishes a framework to investigate and prosecute cases of sexual assault and stalking.
House members voted 286-138 for a five-year extension that expands protections to Native American women and same-sex partners.
Opposition came from Republicans who raised constitutional questions over granting tribal courts jurisdiction over non-Native Americans accused of committing an act of domestic violence on tribal lands. But Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., a member of the Chickasaw Nation, defended the need to empower Native American tribes.
“Hunters know where to hunt; fishermen know where to fish. And predators know where to prey. The passage of the Violence Against Women Act gives tribes badly needed tools to combat the epidemic of violence and abuse in Indian Country,” he said.
Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., and Congressman Derek Kilmer voted in favor.
Republicans offered an alternative that would have allowed U.S. citizens accused of domestic violence on tribal land to opt for prosecution in state or federal courts.
Democrats opposed it as a weakened version of the law that would also have stripped protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender victims.
Herrera Beutler voted for the Republican alternative. Kilmer opposed it