White House backs Reid’s plan to temporarily offset sequester

With deep federal spending cuts known as the sequester beginning to affect air travel and forcing some public-sector layoffs, the White House on Wednesday seemed to offer public support for Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's proposal to temporarily pay down the sequester without generating new tax revenue.

White House officials previously stated the president would not support any measure to replace the sequester that did not include some new tax revenue—what they called a "balanced" approach to deficit reduction.

Reid's plan suggests using some of the $650 billion in the Overseas Contingency Operation fund for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to pay down the sequester for about five months on the presumption the U.S. will not spend all the funds allocated given that the Iraq War has ended and U.S. combat troops are on track to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

"We believe that Sen. Reid's proposal is a good one," White House press secretary Jay Carney said at Wednesday's press briefing. It would "temporarily delay the sequester and all the negative effects that we're talking about down to air travelers, families, seniors, as well as the job loss and the drag on our economy in order to allow for the discussions that the president has made in trying to find common ground with Republicans to bear fruit."

When asked to explain the White House's seeming about-turn on tax revenue, Carney repeated that the White House is supportive of Reid's plan in order to "allow time" for congressional leaders and the White House to find "common ground."

Republicans dismissed Reid's plan as—at best—a budget gimmick.

"So, whether OCO is the mother of all gimmicks, or just a glaring one—everybody other than the majority leader evidently agrees on one thing: It’s the height of fiscal irresponsibility," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor on Wednesday.

McConnell later cast Reid's plan as a significant and potentially positive development: "There’s now bipartisan agreement that tax hikes won’t be a replacement to the sequester," he said.