WASHINGTON — Squabbling away the hours, the Senate moved toward certain defeat of last-minute plans to avoid $85 billion in broad-based spending reductions Thursday as the two political parties blamed each other for the latest outbreak of gridlock and the Obama administration readied plans to put the cuts into effect.
The immediate impact was uncertain as the administration pulled back on its earlier warnings of long lines developing quickly at airports and teacher layoffs affecting classrooms. But there was no doubt about the outcome of back-to-back votes on the Senate floor.
There, a Republican plan requiring Obama to propose an alternative package of $85 billion in cuts faced rejection at the hands of Democrats.
And, just as surely, a Democratic proposal to spread the cuts over a decade and replace half of them with higher taxes on millionaires and corporations headed for defeat at Republican hands.
"We have the opportunity to avoid the kind of calamity and disaster that is being threatened and is completely unnecessary," said Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who co-authored the Republican proposal.
"The question is, are we going to achieve these savings through badly designed spending cuts that make no attempt whatever to distinguish between more sensible government spending and less sensible spending?"
Sen. Patty Murray of Washington said that sensible distinguishing was precisely what Democrats had tried to do by proposing the deferral of Pentagon cuts until U.S. combat troops have come home from Afghanistan in two years' time.
At the same time, she said the Democrats had reasonably proposed replacing half of the pending cuts with higher taxes on "the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations."
Across the Capitol, House Speaker John Boehner led the chorus of Republican critics, saying that "Obama and Senate Democrats are demanding more tax hikes to fuel more 'stimulus' spending."