News Column

D-Day: No Sequester Breakthrough Expected

March 1, 2013
Congress

Some $85 billion in U.S. budget cuts are to start kicking in Friday if Republican leaders and President Barack Obama don't work out a deal at the White House.

The Oval Office meeting with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was to begin at 10:05 a.m., the White House said Thursday night.

Vice President Joe Biden was also to be at the meeting.

None of the participants expect a breakthrough ahead of a midnight deadline, The Wall Street Journal reported.

At that point, Obama would formally notify government agencies the across-the-board spending cuts, known in Washington as the "sequester," are in effect, forcing federal spending to shrink.

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 2.4 percent of the federal government's annual $3.55 trillion budget.

Many Republicans scoff at the notion a 2.4 percent federal-budget cut can't be easily absorbed.

Members of both parties indicated it was possible a deal might be worked out later that would end the sequester before it plays out totally, the Journal said.

"I will bring together leaders from both parties to discuss a path forward," Obama said in a statement Thursday.

"We should work together to reduce our deficit in a balanced way -- by making smart spending cuts and closing special interest tax loopholes," Obama said.

"That's exactly the kind of plan Democrats in the Senate have proposed," he said. "But even though a majority of senators support this approach, Republicans have refused to allow it an up-or-down vote -- threatening our economy with a series of arbitrary, automatic budget cuts that will cost us jobs and slow our recovery."

McConnell said: "Now, after thwarting every bipartisan attempt to avert his sequester, the president is ready to make it bite as hard as possible -- all to send a simple message to the public: 'You want to control Washington spending, America? Fine, let me show you much I can make it hurt.'"

If Obama and congressional Republicans do not work out a compromise, it would mark the first time in three years of budget battles the president has failed to reach a last-minute deal with the GOP.

On Thursday, the Senate failed to pass a pair of bills to block or ease the effects of the sequester.



Source: Copyright United Press International 2013