Senate aides confirmed Friday that Republicans are coalescing around an alternative to the sequester that would keep the lower spending levels in place, but give federal agencies greater flexibility to determine where the cuts are implemented.
The exact details of the Republican proposals are unclear. A GOP Senate aide told Business Insider that Republicans are considering a plan that would fund the government at the levels dictated by the sequestration — which amounts to about $85 billion in spending cuts for fiscal year 2013 — while giving the Obama administration the flexibility to reprogram the cuts at their discretion, provided that the balance remains between defense and non-defense discretionary spending cuts.
As TPM's Brian Beutler points out, the plan — which has gained traction among prominent conservative commentators, including the National Review editorial board and Karl Rove — is politically savvy for several reasons.
First, it deals with the biggest problem of the sequester, namely its meat-cleaver approach to spending cuts. This undercuts the White House's main argument against the sequester, which is that the cuts are arbitrary, and therefore threatening.
In reality, $85 billion is a relatively small number when it comes to the federal budget.
The Department of Transportation, for example, only needs to find $1 billion in cuts this year, or about 2 percent of its $55 billion budget. If the cuts are not applied uniformly to every program, it's hard to imagine that the DOT could not cut $1 billion from the department with marginal impact to its workforce and to everyday Americans.
The second benefit to the GOP plan is that it allows Republicans to avoid the political pitfalls of proposing their own budget cuts, and forces the Obama administration to determine — and take ownership — of the spending cuts.