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Republicans revive 'Penny Plan' as sequester alternative to balance budget

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Shown here are Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., left, and Marco Rubio, R-Fla. (AP)

As Congress faces a fast-approaching deadline on passing a federal spending bill, Republican lawmakers are reviving a Tea Party-backed plan with a catchy title that they claim could balance the budget.

The so-called "Penny Plan" would, according to its sponsors, balance the federal budget in two years by using just a 1 percent reduction in spending.

The lawmakers are pitching the plan in the simplest terms -- cutting a penny from every dollar the government spends so that spending will soon equal revenue. They cast the plan as a pick-and-choose alternative to the sequester's across-the-board budget cuts.

"Everybody should be able to live with one percent less in order to help bring this country back from the brink of catastrophic failure," bill sponsor and Wyoming Republican Sen. Mike Enzi said in submitting the legislation just before August recess.

Enzi is joined by fellow GOP Sens. Rand Paul, of Kentucky; John Barrasso, of Wyoming;  Jim Risch, of Idaho; David Vitter, of Louisiana; Johnny Isakson, of Georgia; and Marco Rubio, of Florida. Republican Georgia Rep. Austin Scott introduced similar legislation in the House.

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Senate sponsors warn that federal spending over the past 11 years has increased from 18 percent of the country's GDP to nearly 23 percent. And without intervention, they say, the national debt will go from roughly $16 billion to $25 billion by 2023, increasing interest payment so much that balancing the budget will go "beyond the reach of Congress."  

The 1 percent cut would last two years, followed by a cap on total annual spending -- equal to roughly 19 percent of GDP. Supporters say it also will cut spending over roughly 10 years by about $5.8 trillion, based on currently projected levels.

The senators say only that the plan takes a "worst first" approach to the cuts -- in other words, leaving it to lawmakers to cut what they deem the most wasteful items first -- as long as the overall 1 percent cut is achieved.

Enzi has frequently talked about reducing spending by eliminating ineffective, outdated and redundant federal programs.

"You don't need five agencies doing the same thing, especially when their programs could be combined or cut," Enzi spokesman Daniel Head told FoxNews.com.

However, the bill singles out only entitlements.

"Absent reform, the growth of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other health-related spending will overwhelm all other federal programs," the bill states.

This is not the first time the plan has surfaced on Capitol Hill.

Enzi proposed similar legislation in 2011 with then-Florida Republican Rep. Connie Mack that also got Paul's support.

Paul refreshed the idea in March during his Tea Party response to President Obama's State of the Union address.

The idea is backed largely by conservative groups including FreedomWorks and the Tea Party Patriots. It also garnered support during its Capitol Hill debut from former Clinton administration aide Lanny Davis, who said the plan also needs a revenue-raising component but was "practical" and seemed like "a good place to start."

Still, the plan does not appear to enjoy widespread support among progressives.

Jim Dean, chairman for Democracy for America, called the plan "one of the more idiotic pieces of legislation" put forth by Congress' Tea Party-aligned lawmakers.

"Americans are smart enough to see it for what it really is: a stealth effort to gut our dwindling retirement security by slashing over $1 trillion from Social Security and more than $200 billion from Medicare," he told FoxNew.com.

Washington has meanwhile made progress on cutting the federal deficit, largely through recent spending cuts and tax increases, including the hike in January on Americans' highest earners.

After topping $1 trillion for four straight years, the budget is projected to fall to $642 billion in the budget year ending in September and shrink even further in the next several years before starting to grow again at the end of the decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

However, the Republican senators warned that entitlements if left unchecked will "consume" the additional tax revenue.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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