The Senate will vote on dueling legislative proposals today to prevent sweeping across-the-board federal spending cuts, but there is no confidence lawmakers will reach a bipartisan deal with President Obama before the Friday deadline.
Obama has summoned the top four congressional leaders to a White House meeting Friday to discuss the cuts, known as the "sequester," while House Republicans are maneuvering to give the Pentagon more discretion in how to implement the cuts.
The sequester will require federal agencies to make $85 billion in spending cuts between March 1 and the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. The cuts are the first tranche of a decade-long plan to reduce spending by $1.2 trillion by applying an across-the-board cut to nearly every program of the federal government, except for military personnel and entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security.
By law, Obama is required to issue an order implementing the sequester before midnight Friday unless Congress approves an alternative set of cost controls.
Senate Democrats have offered an alternative to pay for the sequester through 2013 with a combination of a minimum 30% tax on millionaires and cuts to defense and farm payments. It will fail because it does not have the 60 votes necessary to overcome a Republican filibuster. GOP senators oppose the plan because it raises taxes.
"Now, less than 48 hours before the clock runs out, all they've offered is a gimmicky tax hike that's designed to fail," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
On Tuesday, Obama toured a ship factory in east Virginia that makes nuclear submarines and told workers their jobs are "in jeopardy" unless the Republicans agree to an alternative debt-reduction plan that includes higher tax revenue.
"The sequester will weaken America's economic recovery," Obama told thousands of workers at Newport News Shipbuilding. "It will weaken our military readiness. "
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, criticized Obama's trip to Newport News, saying the president is using "our military men and women as a prop in yet another campaign rally to support his tax hikes."
Senate Republicans are considering offering an alternative plan today that would require the same level of budget cuts but put the burden on the president to determine which programs would be cut and which would be spared. The White House contends they will not support any sequester alternative that doesn't include both revenue increases and spending cuts.
The GOP-controlled House of Representatives has not voted on any alternatives to the cuts. Boehner has said the House will consider alternatives when the Senate finds a plan that can pass the upper chamber.
In the previous Congress, the House twice passed sequester alternatives, but they never became law.
Instead, the House intends to take up a resolution next week to fund the government through Sept. 30. The current funding runs out March 27, threatening a government shutdown if Congress doesn't act.
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