The first formal meeting between Obama and congressional leaders over the spending cuts, known as the sequester, will come after weeks of finger-pointing by both sides. An administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the president will push for specific solutions from Republicans, asking them to name one tax break they are willing to end to stop the spending cuts.
“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,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday. “We remain hopeful that at some point, hopefully soon, that Republicans will understand the need to compromise here.”
Republicans, though, cast doubt on whether the meeting will be useful.
“The message my constituents keep sending is simply this: Replacing spending cuts that both parties have already agreed to, and which the president has already signed into law, with tax hikes is simply unacceptable,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).
“We’re still ready to work with them to get something responsible done,” he added. “But we can’t do it alone.”
The reductions in defense and domestic spending are expected to begin Friday, the same day Obama will meet at the White House with House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), McConnell, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). The cuts would trim $85 billion from federal spending — including congressional office budgets — for the rest of fiscal year 2013.
The Senate plans to vote Thursday afternoon on replacing the sequester in part with tax increases on millionaires. The Democratic bill is expected to fail, as is a GOP alternative that would give the White House more flexibility to decide where the cuts would fall.
House Republicans were looking past the Friday meeting to the next front in the budget wars. They agreed to put a bill on the floor as soon as next week that would prevent a government shutdown on March 27; that measure to fund the government through the rest of the fiscal year would continue the sequester while providing new protections from the cuts to the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs, positions that are opposed in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
As the sequester clock ticked down, anxiety over the potential consequences continued to rise Wednesday.
As part of belt-tightening prompted by the cuts, Boehner is curbing congressional trips abroad. He told a meeting of his Republican Conference on Wednesday that only delegations headed to review the military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq would be allowed to continue once the cuts take affect, according to Republicans in the room.