Lawmakers scramble to stop sequestration

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. Evan Vucci/AP

This story has been updated to reflect that the House passed Rep. Allen West's bill.

Lawmakers are busy trying to delay or avoid altogether the threat of across-the-board budget cuts early in 2013.  

A bipartisan group of senators is working to negotiate a $55 billion down payment that would give Congress an additional six months to negotiate a long-term deal for reducing the deficit, The Hill reported Wednesday.

House members also are devising plans to avert the cuts, known as sequestration and slated to take effect on Jan. 2, 2013.

The House on Thursday passed a bill from Rep. Allen West. R-Fla., aimed at protecting the Defense Department from sequestration. West’s proposed National Security and Jobs Protection Act would force President Obama to come up with an alternative to the defense portion of the cuts. The measure passed 223-196. The Senate still must approve it, and the White House has threatened to veto it, saying it “fails the test of fairness and shared responsibility.”

Both parties have denounced the automatic cuts, which were designed to encourage a bipartisan compromise on reducing the deficit. Many defense contractors were planning to release notices to employees regarding potential job losses close to Election Day, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz,, has argued vocally against the cuts.

During a press conference Thursday, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the gridlock was unacceptable and urged for some type of solution to the standoff.
“This is so immature, so irresponsible, so unworthy of the trust the American people place on us," Pelosi said.

Vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan R-Wis., was welcomed back to Washington with a video that House Democrats made highlighting the congressman’s support for sequestration in 2011. He has disavowed that support on the campaign trail and has argued that his vote for the 2011 Budget Control Act was for other reasons. Ryan was scheduled to vote later Thursday for the six-month continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown at the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.   

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