President Obama has invited House and Senate leaders from both parties to the White House to discuss the looming across-the-board budget cuts on Friday, hours after the statutory deadline will have passed for heading off sequestration.
According to the Associated Press, the meeting is an attempt to “jump-start” the stalemated budget talks, even though by law, the president and the Office of Management and Budget are required to issue sequestration instructions to Congress and agencies as of midnight on Thursday, March 1. Many agencies have said they will need to furlough employees if the cuts take effect.
The Senate is expected to take up new alternative deficit reduction proposals on Thursday, including plans to give the president greater flexibility to design the budget cuts. But time is running out for the House to follow suit and some Democrats are opposed to increase flexibility for fear it could pin the blame for sequestration on the White House.
A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters on Wednesday that "at this point, the Obama administration isn't even pretending to try to stop the sequester," noting that the Friday event would be the first such face-to-face encounter in months.
On the Senate floor Wednesday, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., blasted the Democrats’ “gimmicky tax hike” as designed to fail. “For months now, I’ve been coming to the floor to urge my colleagues on the other side to help us replace the president’s sequester proposal,” he said. “Yet here we are, with just two days to go until the cuts hit, and the Democrats who control Washington still haven’t put forward a serious bipartisan plan; not the president and not his allies in Congress. They’ve preferred to keep it alive as a political issue instead.”
Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., the previous day told the Senate that “Democrats are working hard to avert the worst of these arbitrary cuts -- cuts for which an overwhelming majority of Republicans in Congress voted. We have a balanced proposal to replace those across-the-board cuts for this year with smart spending reductions, measures that close corporate tax loopholes and end wasteful subsidies and revenue from the very wealthiest among us -- Americans making millions of dollars each year.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said, “We look forward to meeting with President Obama to develop a balanced, bipartisan solution to avoid the unemployment and economic uncertainty caused by the indiscriminate cuts set to take effect. In the meantime, House Democrats will continue to seek a vote on our proposal to avert this crisis with a fair solution, similar to the Senate Democratic proposal, that cuts spending responsibly, increases revenue, and creates growth with jobs.”