As we head through the month of February, there's little time before the across-the-board federal spending cuts, known as sequestration, are set to take place. This week, Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski is joining a group of her Democratic colleagues in an effort to push their party's sequester alternative. David Hawkings, editor of the CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing, has some of the story's details.
On how Sen. Mikulski's hearing on the sequestration will fit into the Democrat's plans: "She is up there leading at the tip of the sphere for the Democrats. They are trying to put together in the Senate a sequester alternative package that would be some combination of spending reductions and tax increases. Sen. Mikulski, the chairwoman of the appropriations committee, would be in charge of the spending part. But this is a long-shot effort to be sure. There are 18 days to go before the sequester is supposed to take effect, and both halves of Congress are gone next week for five days. So... essentially, they've got nine days to come up with an alternative. It looks very unlikely they are going to do that — if at all — before the very last minute. But in the interim, the political move that the Democrats have to make will be on Sen. Mikulski's plate."
On whether Obama will offer support for the Democrat's sequester alternative: "I think he will, but I think the White House is making clear that he is going to be talking about other things. He wants to get the nation's attention... improve the economy, more jobs, bigger issues... and has essentially said last week to Congress, 'you all figure it out.' You all come up with a plan to avert this sequester. All he said was it should be some sort of mix between revenue and spending cuts, and I'm going to move on now and talk about other things. And that puts the ball on more of the Republicans' court, and as we've heard all along, and we've heard yesterday, the Republicans are not interested in the revenues part."
On how pay for federal workers will play out in budget talks this year: "... It's a big-ticket item. Pay for federal workers add up to billions and billions of dollars. The House will probably pass this bill on Thursday or Friday that would continue the existing pay freeze for the rest of 2013, otherwise workers would receive a half a percentage point increase this spring. But that doesn't mean it'll become law. The Senate will probably ignore that legislation. And the whole issue will be postponed and wrapped up, and larger budget talks will be happening later this spring."
Listen to the full analysis here.