By freezing budgets for domestic agencies, the Republican plan would deny an increase for a big cybersecurity initiative, additional money to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal and money to build new Coast Guard cutters. GOP initiatives such as more money for the Small Business Administration or fossil fuels research would be hurt as well, but there's little appetite for the alternative, which is to stack more than $1 trillion worth of spending bills together for a single up-or-down vote.
But the GOP move to add the line-by-line spending bills for the Pentagon and veterans' programs to the catchall spending bill would give the military much-sought increases for force readiness and the Veterans Administration additional funding for health care.
That approach has few fans in the White House, which is seeking money to implement Obama's signature efforts to overhaul financial regulation and the nation's health care system, or within the Democratic Senate, where members of the Appropriations Committee want to add a stack of bills covering domestic priorities such as homeland security, NASA and federal law enforcement agencies like the FBI.
"You need balance," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. "We feel as strongly about the domestic side as we do defense."
The catchall spending measure, known as a continuing resolution or CR inside Washington, was originally seen as a potential must-pass measure to avert Friday's cuts or make them less severe. But no serious talks to avert the cuts have been under way.
On Thursday, Democrats will force a vote on a measure that would forestall the automatic cuts through the end of the year, replacing them with longer-term cuts to the Pentagon and cash payments to farmers and installing a minimum 30 percent tax rate on income exceeding $1 million. But that plan is virtually certain to be toppled by a GOP-led filibuster vote.
Republicans in turn are considering offering a measure that would give Obama authority to propose a rewrite to the 2013 budget to redistribute the cuts. Obama would be unable to cut defense by more than the $43 billion reduction that the Pentagon currently faces, and would also be unable to raise taxes to undo the cuts. The GOP plan would allow a resulting Obama proposal to go into effect unless Congress passed a resolution to overturn it.
The idea is that money could be transferred from lower-priority accounts to accounts funding air traffic control or meat inspection. But the White House says that such moves would offer only slight relief. At the same time, however, it could take pressure off of Congress to address the sequester.
In the House, where Republicans in the past Congress passed legislation to replace the cuts, Boehner has said it's now up to Obama and the Senate to figure a way out. The Senate never took up the House-passed bills, which expired when the new Congress was seated in January.