(WASHINGTON) — The budget ax is about to fall, and there’s little lawmakers in Washington are doing to stop it.
Despite a parade of dire warnings from the White House, an $85 billion package of deep automatic spending cuts appears poised to take effect on Friday.
The cuts — known in Washington as the sequester — will hit every federal budget, from defense to education, and even the president’s own staff.
On Capitol Hill, Senate Democrats and Republicans each staged votes on Thursday aimed at substituting the indiscriminate across-the-board cuts with more sensible ones. Democrats also called for including new tax revenue in the mix. Both measures failed.
Leaders on both sides publicly conceded that the effort was largely for show, with little chance the opposing chamber would embrace the other’s plan. They will discuss their differences with President Obama at the White House on Friday.
“It isn’t a plan at all, it’s a gimmick,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Thursday of the Democrats’ legislation.
“Republicans call the plan flexibility” in how the cuts are made, said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “Let’s call it what it is. It is a punt.”
The budget crisis is the product of a longstanding failure of Congress and the White House to compromise on plans for deficit reduction. The sequester itself, enacted in late 2011, was intended to be so unpalatable as to help force a deal.
Republicans and Democrats, however, remain gridlocked over the issue of taxes.
Obama has mandated that any steps to offset the automatic cuts must include new tax revenue through the elimination of loopholes and deductions. House Speaker John Boehner and the GOP insist the approach should be spending cuts-only, modifying the package to make it more reasonable.
“Do we want to close loopholes? We sure do. But if we are going to do tax reform, it should focus on creating jobs, not funding more government,” Boehner said, explaining his opposition to Obama’s plan.
Boehner, McConnell, Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi will huddle with Obama at the White House on Friday for the first face-to-face meeting of the group this year.
“There are no preconditions to a meeting like this,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Thursday. “The immediate purpose of the meeting is to discuss the imminent sequester deadline and to avert it.”
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