Two days before $85 billion in automatic spending cuts hit the government on March 1, Congress and the President are no closer to a compromise.
The White House has issued dire warnings about the impact the cuts will have, including mass temporary layoffs or "furloughs" in the military, a slowdown in air traffic, and shutdowns for daycare programs and meat-processing plants.
According to a new Pew Research Center survey, Americans are more likely to blame Republicans in Congress than President Barack Obama for not reaching a compromise.
“Republicans in Congress never actually wanted to raise revenue by tax reform. The temporary support for tax reform was just a hand-wavy way of deflecting Obama’s popular campaign plan to expire the Bush tax cuts for the rich,” said David Frum, contributing editor at Newsweek. “Republicans in Congress just want rich people to pay less, period. I can state this rule confidently because there is literally not a single example since 1990 of any meaningful bloc of Republicans defying it.”
The failure to work out sensible budgets makes it impossible for government agencies to make long-term plans, and instead leaves them scrambling to spend money in the short term. Instead of getting together and creating an actual budget that both sides would have to sign off on and own, they created a budget-cutting mechanism that each side will try to pass off as the creation of the other.
The automatic budget cuts were required under a 2011 budget law, negotiated by Obama and Republican leaders, that set an across-the-board reduction in most programs if Congress failed to find other ways to trim the deficit by $1.2 trillion over the coming decade.
A Republican measure would require that $85 billion in spending be cut, but give President Obama more flexibility in manage the spending reductions than given by the sequester, which requires across-the-board cuts to nearly every part of every agency.
But some Republicans fear it would help the White House use the cuts as a political weapon, while the Pentagon would not escape harm. Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the plan doesn't address the damage that the sequester cuts would inflict on the military.
The Senate is expected to vote this week on rival legislative measures backed by Democrats and Republicans.
Most if not all Democrats are expected to support their conference’s $110 billion sequester replacement bill that would phase in a new minimum tax on those making more than $1 million a year, close corporate tax loopholes, end direct farm payments and delay defense cuts.
Republicans complain the plan would cede Congress's power of the purse to the president. Others say it does nothing to address the sequester’s damaging cuts to defense and national security.