News Column

President Taps Senate Leaders as 'Sequester' Sets Off Cuts

March 4, 2013

By Fredreka Schouten


President Obama called Democratic and Republican senators over the weekend, seeking a compromise to end the sweeping, across-the-board spending cuts now taking effect, the president's top economic adviser said Sunday.

But neither side showed signs of relenting, as the latest budget battle threatened furloughs for federal workers and cuts to government services coast-to-coast. The "sequester" kicked in Friday night and requires federal agencies to make $85 billion in spending cuts through the Sept. 30 end of the federal fiscal year.

Gene Sperling, director of the White House Economic Council, did not release the lawmakers' names, but said Obama spent Saturday afternoon on the phone calling senators of both parties "who he thinks could be part of a caucus of common sense to help move our country forward."

Sperling's remarks came on NBC's Meet the Press, one of several TV appearances he made Sunday as the White House and top congressional Republicans sought to deflect blame for the automatic spending cuts and sparred over how big a toll they could take on the U.S. economy. Some of the biggest impacts may be weeks away, in part, because many federal workers must have at least 30 days' notice before they are sent home without pay.

"Nobody ever suggested that this harmful sequester was going to have all its impact in the first few days," he said. He argued the sequester would be a "slow grind," eventually slashing 750,000 jobs if it is not repealed.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., however, said Republicans were determined to keep in place $1.2 trillion in cuts over a decade of which this year's $85 billion is the first portion. He called the reductions imposed by the automatic, across-the-board cuts a "modest" step in solving Washington's "spending addiction." McConnell spoke on CNN's State of the Union.

"I don't know whether it's going to hurt the economy or not," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said on Meet the Press.

Neither side appeared close to compromise to end the stalemate -- the latest in the budget standoff between the White House and Republicans that has dominated Washington for the last two years.

In the interview that aired Sunday, Boehner reiterated his opposition to including any new tax revenue in a deal to roll back the cuts.

"The president got his tax hikes," Boehner said, pointing to $620 billion in tax increases approved last year. "The issue here is spending."

Half of the across-the-board cuts hit the military. Over the weekend, Navy officials said they would begin planning furloughs for civilian employees and delays to maintenance contracts. The Navy also grounded planes, canceled the deployment of seven ships and cut short a drug-patrolling mission in the waters off Central America.

The next fiscal deadline looming over Washington may provide a narrow opportunity for compromise. March 27 marks the expiration of temporary legislation that funds federal agencies.

The White House and Republican leaders in Congress have pledged that their larger fight over the sequester will not derail passage of another spending measure needed to keep the government running through Sept. 30.

Source: Copyright USA TODAY 2013

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