‘Hopeful’ Schumer and ‘cynical’ Gillibrand join to stop sequestration cuts

Gillibrand and Schumer, with other sequestration opponents. (Reid Pillifant)
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At a press conference in Midtown this morning, Sen. Chuck Schumer said he still thought a last-minute deal to avert the impending sequestration might come together before the cuts are scheduled to take effect on Friday.

"I am hopeful that both parties will rise to the occasion and avoid sequestration," Schumer said. "Things do happen at the last minute in Washington. We are hopeful, optimistic that that can happen here."

Schumer appeared with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand at her office, three floors below his own, to denounce the $3 billion reduction in Hurricane Sandy aid, and the $27 million in cuts to the 9/11 health compensation fund, that would be part of the sequestration cuts.

"Veterans were exempted from sequestration," said Schumer. "These are New York's veterans."

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Schumer said he and Gillibrand would introduce a bill to block those, and to raise new revenues by eliminating tax breaks for companies that send jobs overseas and for oil companies, and by imposing the so-called Buffett Rule that mandates a 30 percent tax rate for high-income earners.

So far, House Republicans have declined to budge on their resistance to new revenues, and have seemed content to let the cuts take effect before they negotiate any kind of compromise.

Gillibrand said she was also "hopeful" that a deal might come to pass, but also said she had a feeling that the impending sequestration cuts, which she voted against, might kick in.

"I was one of the few people who said this is not going to work," she said. "Because I didn't have faith that the Republicans would vote for any kind of a bill that would raise revenues. And so I had no hope that the super committee would be successful, so this is what we're stuck with, these cuts."

Gillibrand didn't mention that Schumer, who left after his remarks for a previously scheduled event on Long Island, had been among the senators who voted for the bill that set up the sequestration cuts. (Schumer, as the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate leadership has an unspoken obligation to support the White House and the majority leader in such deals, which doesn't apply in the same way to the more junior Gillibrand. See also: extension of the Bush tax cuts.)

"You know I just tend to be quite cynical when it comes to the realities of politics and the Republicans have said time and time again they won't raise revenues," said Gillibrand, who said the stated purpose of a $4 trillion deal would require at least $1 trillion in revenue.

"And politically I didn't think they could get even close," she said. "Now maybe I just have a darker view of things, but I didn't have hope at the time. And I didn't want to see what's happening to New York, happen."

A reporter asked whether President Obama had miscalculated in thinking the defense cuts would bring Republicans back to the bargaining table.

"It was my view and I can only speak for myself," she said.

John Feal, one of the more outspoken first responders, who worked to pass the 9/11 health care bill, noted that he was 3-0 in fighting battles in Washington and said he was looking forward to winning this one too.

"I look forward to getting on I-95, on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, getting in D.C. and putting my foot in some congressional ass," he said. "And if that offends anybody, I don't care. Because we're offended. We're insulted."