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Democrats back $3b-a-year Pentagon cut

Proposal part of effort to delay bigger reductions

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell

AP/File

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell says Democrats “sit on their hands until the last minute.”

WASHINGTON — Top Senate Democrats have prepared a plan to slice the Pentagon’s budget by $3 billion a year in an attempt to avoid far steeper cuts that defense hawks warn would cripple the military.

Majority leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, hopes to stage a vote before $85 billion in automatic budget cuts start to take effect in March. The bill is expected to produce about $120 billion in deficit savings over the coming decade, enough to block the automatic cuts through the end of 2013.

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But Republicans may try to block the measure because it contains a 10-year, $47 billion tax increase, known as the ‘‘Buffett Rule,’’ that would require people with million-dollar incomes to pay a minimum 30 percent income tax — named after billionaire investor Warren Buffett.

The measure would also raise about $24 billion by cutting much-criticized direct payments to farmers. Interest savings would contribute most of the rest.

The measure has not been officially unveiled but is under assault from Republicans.

‘‘We again find ourselves in sad and familiar territory,’’ said Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky. ‘‘Democrats sit on their hands until the last minute. Then they offer some gimmicky bill designed to fail.’’

Republicans vow they won’t accept tax revenues as part of any deal with President Obama to shut off the so-called sequester, which would require across-the-board cuts of 5 percent in domestic programs and 8 percent at the Pentagon. The cuts are the result of the failure of the 2011 budget ‘‘supercommittee’’ to agree on a deficit-cutting pact.

Sharp rebuff

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House Republicans do not have a rival plan to shut off the cuts and instead point to a plan that passed twice last year, most recently by a slender 215-209 vote in December. The GOP now controls eight fewer seats in the House, and there’s hardening sentiment among some Tea Party Republicans to allow the sequester to take effect. So it’s not clear that Speaker John Boehner, of Ohio, could muster enough support to stop the sequester.

Republicans have instead focused their energies on a public relations campaign, saying the sequester idea had its origins in the White House in the summer of 2011.

The White House says it supports a short-term measure to avert the sequester but hasn’t offered any suggestions on what elements should be in it.

In a separate development Monday, the Defense Department said it will not extend some housing benefits to same-sex partners of service members even though it legally could because the issue requires more review and military leaders expressed concerns.

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