March 1, 2013

Deficit knife commences to cut

Lawmakers leave town for the weekend after two attempts to forestall the cuts are defeated.


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Speaker of the House John Boehner, right, walks from a news conference on Capitol Hill Thursday. Boehner, a Republican, was to meet with President Obama and other leaders Friday on the sequester issue, but no one seriously expects action.


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Three Democrats who are up for re-election in 2014 voted against the tax measure. And two other Democrats -- Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia and Max Baucus of Montana -- voted for a competing Republican proposal that would keep the sequester in place but give Obama new flexibility to decide where the cuts would fall.

The GOP bill was rejected 62 to 38, with nine Republicans who feared it would afford Obama too much power voting no.

With that, the Senate closed up shop for the week. The House -- which made no recent attempt to stop the sequester after adopting two proposals last year to shift the spending cuts from the military to domestic programs -- completed its work hours earlier.

So lawmakers left Washington resigned to the idea of letting the cuts take effect sometime before midnight Friday, when the law requires Obama to sign a formal order telling agencies how much to cut from each account.

"Today, Republicans in the Senate faced a choice about how to grow our economy and reduce our deficit. And instead of closing a single tax loophole that benefits the well-off and well-connected, they chose to cut vital services for children, seniors, our men and women in uniform and their families," Obama said in a statement.

"I believe we should do better," Obama said, adding that Friday's meeting at the White House offers an opportunity to chart "a path forward."

The path seems uncommonly murky, however.

Last week, in meetings with liberal activists, administration officials suggested that they hoped to persuade Republicans to cancel the sequester as part of negotiations over the funding bill needed to keep the government open past March 27.

That now appears unlikely.

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