The White House and congressional Republicans were poised Thursday to let the deadline for sweeping across-the-board U.S. budget cuts pass 24 hours later.
The Senate was to face down competing bills Thursday whose sponsors said could prevent the $85 billion in broad spending cuts, known as the "sequester," from coming to pass Friday.
But Senate leaders of both parties said neither measure was likely to pass.
President Barack Obama scheduled a meeting with the top four congressional leaders of both chambers for Friday, when the domestic and military spending cuts passed by Congress were scheduled to be automatically triggered.
None of the participants expect the morning meeting at the White House to produce a breakthrough, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The cuts -- which will run through the end of the fiscal year in September unless lawmakers intervene -- are the first of a decade-long plan to cut spending $1.2 trillion for nearly every federal program, except for military personnel and entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security.
The cuts were included in the 2011 deal to raise the federal debt limit. They represent between 2 percent and 3 percent of the federal government's annual $3.5 trillion budget.
Senate Democrats have offered an alternative bill that would pay for the sequester through the end of the fiscal year with a combination of a minimum 30 percent tax on millionaires and cuts to defense and farm payments.
It was widely expected to fail because it does not have the 60-vote support needed to overcome a promised Republican filibuster, USA Today said. GOP senators have said any plan that would collect more taxes is dead in the water.
"Now, less than 48 hours before the clock runs out, all they've offered is a gimmicky tax hike that's designed to fail," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on Capitol Hill. "I hope they're not expecting a round of applause for this particular act of political bravery."
Senate Republicans have an alternative bill that would have the same $85 billion in budget cuts but put the onus on Obama to determine which programs would be cut.
The White House has said Obama will not support any sequester alternative that doesn't include a "balanced plan" that includes domestic program cuts and additional tax revenue collected from some corporations and high-income people.
"What we haven't seen, when we hear Republican leaders adamantly refuse to consider revenue as part of deficit reduction, is anything like that same spirit of compromise or seriousness of purpose that I think you've seen demonstrated by the president and Democratic leaders," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Wednesday.
The Republican-controlled House has not offered its own version of an alternative to the sequester cuts.
Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said his chamber will only consider an option that has passed the Senate.
The House passed two sequester alternatives near the end of last year's Congress that didn't become law.
"We should not have to move a third bill before the Senate gets off their ass and begins to do something," Boehner told reporters Tuesday.
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