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In the Budget Debate, Even the Definition of Spending Is Up for Grabs

If you need a sign that Washington is going to have a tough time breaking its gridlock on the budget, look no further than the fact that Democrats and Republican can't even agree to the terms of the debate. 

For a while now, a so-called "grand bargain" on long-term deficit reduction has seemed elusive, though President Obama still hopes it can be achieved. The president plans to have dinner with about a dozen GOP senators on Wednesday night in an effort to revive talks and has plans for a rare trip to Capitol Hill next week. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham described it to The New York Times as "probably the most encouraging engagement on a big issue since the early days of his presidency." It's a promising development for proponents of deficit reduction, but a huge amount of distance remains between the two sides.

Democrats see no way of reducing the nation's annual deficits without both cutting spending and generating new revenue. But Republicans say Democrats already got a concession on revenue at the beginning of the year, when Congress voted to let upper-income tax cuts expire as part of a fiscal cliff deal, raising roughly $620 ...

Paul Ryan's New Budget Promises Don't Add Up

Paul Ryan made two promises, but he can only keep one. As Ryan finishes up the new House Republican budget before he presents it to reporters Wednesday, he's confronting a last-minute problem on Medicare, Politico's Jake Sherman and Jonathan Allen report. He's promised House Republicans that his budget will balance itself in a decade — instead of three, as his earlier budgets did. But he's also promised that his plan to turn Medicare into a voucher system wouldn't effect anyone over the age of 55. Paul Ryan simply cannot do both of those things.

Ryan "has privately been floating the idea" of privatizing Medicare for people under 56, Politico reports. Because Ryan's previous budget for the House GOP did not cut Social Security or defense spending, it did not balance until 2040. And it required huge cuts to everything else — discretionary spending would drop from 12.5 percent of GDP to 3.25 percent by 2050. But House Speaker John Boehner promised conservatives that this time, the budget would balance in 10 years. "It's not going to be that much different, except for the fact that it will balance in 10 years," Majority Whip ...

Don't Expect Any Backroom Deals on Sequester -- For Now

There’s been so much talk about relationships in Washington recently that opening a newspaper can feel a bit like reading Cosmo.

House Speaker John Boehner and President Obama don’t get along, what with the speaker saying the president doesn’t have “the guts” to cut spending. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell isn't planning on calling up Vice President Joe Biden to cut a last-minute deal anytime soon.

And while Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have a fine working relationship—despite Boehner telling Reid recently to do something to himself that is anatomically impossible—neither man thinks the other is much good at running his respective chamber, aides to both men say.

It’s no surprise, then, that nobody expects much to come from Friday’s White House powwow between congressional leaders and Obama on how to avoid the across-the-board spending cuts set to begin taking effect the same day.

Republicans view the meeting as little more than a photo op for the president, arguing that if it were really intended to produce results, it would have been scheduled long ago. “It’s more about [White House photographer] Pete Souza than it is the sequester,” a ...

What Time Does the Sequester Start?

Because there appears to be no serious effort to stop it before it starts, we have to think about the actual mechanics of the sequester.  First question: What time does the sequester actually start? President Obama must sign an order starting the sequester by 11:59 p.m. on Friday, March 1. Sources close to my imagination say Obama will commence the cuts by pulling a ceremonial train whistle that will rattle windows across Washington, D.C. 

And now for the essay portion of our quiz: What time does the sequester end? Both the White House and Congress believe the other party will blink first. We don't know for sure how this sequester will play out, but we do have some past sequesters to judge by. If 2013 follows the 1990 example, then it won't last long. As the Bipartisan Policy Center explains, Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 set deficit reduction targets. The Office of Management and Budget would issue a "sequestration report" projecting whether that target would be hit. If Congress wasn't on target, it would have a a short amount of time to either pass deficit reduction measures or face automatic ...

If Sequestration Happens, What's Getting the Ax?

President Obama has been warning that deep cuts triggered by sequestration could be devastating for the military and other government programs. But many Republicans, determined to see a reduction in federal spending, show no sign of wanting to cut a deal with the president to avoid the sequester.

Since the defense sector would see a large cut in its funding, several lawmakers and former officials have argued that it would weaken the standing of the United States on the world stage, empowering countries who threaten U.S. national security. Dov Zakheim, who served in several Defense Department posts in Republican administrations since the Reagan era, said the reductions could hinder the modernization of U.S. forces, among other impacts.

“What kind of message does that send to the Iranians or the Chinese or our allies?” Zakheim said. “There’s a real issue of American credibility. Most people around the world have no idea what the sequester is about. They can’t understand it.”

Here are some of the programs that would be pared as part of the sequester, according to a report by the White House Office of Management and Budget and letters from administration officials:

Air Travel: An estimated ...