President Barack Obama and members of Congress are floating ideas to prevent $85 billion in automatic budget cuts from occurring this year, starting on 1 March.

Last week, the President urged lawmakers to avert budget sequestration in the short-term through a package of smaller budget cuts and tax reforms. Such a move would buy time for a larger, more comprehensive package to be prepared.

House Republicans criticized President Obama’s call for new revenues. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said that Republicans would oppose additional tax increases and instead pursue more spending cuts.

Legislation introduced by House and Senate Republicans would forestall the across-the-board cuts to federal agency budgets for a year by reducing the federal workforce by 10 percent. The staff reductions would occur by attrition, with only one out of every three employee vacancies being filled. The measure would save about $85 billion a year, which is enough to delay sequestration until 2014. S. 263 is sponsored by Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and the House version, H.R. 593, is sponsored by Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA).

Democratic leaders in the Senate are also working on an alternative to sequestration. Details of that plan have not yet been settled. Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) said that she would prefer a longer-term package to address all years of cuts, instead of a temporary fix. In the meantime, however, the Senator will support a short-term solution to looming sequestration cuts.

Sequestration would impact nearly all federal programs. Research grant programs would be cut by 5 percent this year and by a higher percentage over the next decade unless current law is changed. According to the White House, the National Science Foundation would issue nearly 1,000 fewer research grants and awards, impacting an estimated 12,000 scientists and students.

Federal agencies have begun to alert their employees of possible furloughs if sequestration begins as scheduled. Agencies are also weighing options to cut back spending on travel, training, facilities, and supplies.


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