By Paul C. Barton, Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -- Tennessee's two Republican senators expressed different takes Thursday on who bears responsibility for the across-the-board federal spending cuts that begin today as part of a budget sequestration.
Sen. Lamar Alexander said they reflected "a complete failure of presidential leadership."
But Sen. Bob Corker said the problem was "a lack of courage" among senators to address entitlement reform.
Both were among numerous lawmakers issuing last-minute comments before federal programs and agencies face having $85 billion less than expected over the remaining seven months of the federal fiscal year, a down payment on an additional $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade.
Instead of working with lawmakers to work out less arbitrary reductions, Obama "has been campaigning across the country using scare tactics," Alexander said.
The senior senator reminded reporters the president and the Congress have known for more than a year that the sequester was coming, due to the failure of a specially appointed congressional "supercommittee" in late 2011 to develop a plan for spending cuts.
If Obama had worked with Congress, Alexander said, it would have been possible within about two weeks to develop an alternate plan for spending cuts in the Senate Appropriations Committee and gotten it passed on the Senate floor.
"The president is supposed to propose and the Congress is supposed to respond," the senator said.
When asked about the critical attitudes of voters concerning what's happening, Alexander said, "They should be disgusted with it."
Meanwhile, Corker, in a speech on the Senate floor, called the sequester "ham-handed."
But he also said, "The only thing worse than sequestration in my opinion is kicking the can down the road on some much needed fiscal discipline here in Washington."
Corker said Congress had alternatives, including a bill that would let Obama decide where to make the cuts instead of having them made across-the-board, the method called for by August 2011 legislation that established the sequester. Corker called that "working through it in a way that is least harmful to the American people."
Corker concluded by saying sequestration would be unnecessary if Congress had already acted to reform entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, the main drivers of government spending.
"We are going through this pain again due to lack of courage in the United States Senate to address the real issues of the day," he said.
Cal Jillson, political scientist at Southern Methodist University, said Alexander's remarks reflect Republican frustration over losing public relations battles to Obama in recent budget showdowns.
"There is blame to go around," he said. "Most Americans are in a mood to say a pox on both your houses."
Contact Paul C. Barton at firstname.lastname@example.org