Washington (CNN) - Days before the automatic spending cuts are due to kick in to federal agencies, congressional Republicans are discussing a plan to give the Obama administration the flexibility - once the cuts go into effect - to let individual executive agencies make decisions about which programs could be cut.
On the House side, Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan is one of the top GOP members leading talks on that approach with rank and file members.
Ryan told CNN his GOP colleagues are receptive to the concept.
"I think people are willing to do that,” he said. “I think the idea to give them more flexibility to distribute the cuts makes a lot of sense and that's something we're generally in favor of doing."
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell also said he also favors the idea.
"I would be happy to give the President more flexibility, and rely on the agency heads to apportion this amount of spending reduction in a different way than the sequester envisions," McConnell told reporters at the Capitol, using the Washington term for the spending cuts.
But he conceded that other Senate Republicans are "suspicious" the administration would use that authority "to punish their political enemies."
House Republican leadership aides caution there are no decisions yet about whether or how they would move a measure to swap out the across-the-board cuts with a plan to give executive branch agencies more discretion. The House could potentially include such a proposal when it considers a government funding bill, known as a "continuing resolution," to keep federal agencies funded through the fall. That vote could happen as early as next week.
Senate Republicans are still deciding what approach they will take to address the forced spending cuts.
But while Republicans may be willing to throw the hot potato of deciding cuts to federal programs back to Obama, the president said Tuesday that the sheer size of the cuts for this year means there's no way to move them around without inflicting budget pain.
"The problem is, when you're cutting $85 billion in seven months - which represents over a 10% cut in the Defense budget in seven months - there's no smart way to do that," Obama said at an event in Newport News, Virginia.
"You don't want to have to choose between – let's see. Do I close funding for the disabled kid or the poor kid? Do I close this Navy shipyard or some other one?" he asked.
The president repeated his call for compromise on a plan to replace the cuts that includes new tax revenue, a non-starter for most congressional Republicans.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid panned the idea, calling it a "false concept" and noted even a top Republican, Sen. John McCain, argued it turned over decisions about programs Congress created to the executive branch.
Top House Democrats also flatly rejected the idea of offering flexibility on the cuts Tuesday, citing concerns that it cedes congressional authority to the executive branch.
Rep Jim Clyburn, D-South Carolina, called the idea a "false choice for us to make. We are the elected officials who the public sent here to make some tough decisions and to give direction to the executive branch of the government. This is our job to do and we ought not be passing it on or attempting to pass it on to anybody else."
But beyond the constitutional concern about who ultimately has the power of the purse, a senior House Democratic aide told CNN that Democrats oppose that idea because they don't want to let Republicans "off the hook" for backing the spending cuts that were part of the debt deal from the summer of 2011.
Transferring the final say on those cuts to the president, said the aide, would only allow the GOP to do what they've been working to do for weeks - distance themselves from something economists warn will hurt the economy.
"House Republicans are refusing to take responsibility for yet another one of their manufactured crises and the American people aren't going to fall for yet another gimmick that would still harm our economic recovery," the senior aide said.
Asked about McCain's concerns, Ryan said this isn't a new approach.
"There's a long tradition of reprogramming [in Congress],” Ryan said. “I think there's some authorizing bills that [McCain’s] talking about in the Senate. We're not talking about the same thing."
GOP Rep. Jim Lankford of Oklahoma told CNN Monday that members do not like the across the board cuts, calling the so-called sequester a "sloppy" approach. But Lankford said the challenge is "there isn't a lot of trust for the administration and how they would actually spend the money if you just handed them a checkbook."
Lankford said there are discussions about what kind of oversight or restrictions could be put in place if Congress does allow federal agency heads to make the calls on what to cut.
House Administration Committee Chairwoman Candice Miller, R-Michigan, told CNN she expects the forced spending cuts to go into effect, and does think it makes sense to let the agencies themselves determine which areas could be cut. But Miller echoed Lankford's concerns, saying Republicans are wary the Obama administration would use the budgetary authority to score political points.
Speaking of letting the Pentagon make spending decisions, Miller said, "Hopefully you've got four star generals over there that would not be reacting in a political way."