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Democrats' Bid to Replace Sequester Central to Fiscal Cliff Standoff

Such confidence could be undone if the spending cuts are allowed to take effect and drag down the economy. The spending cuts would only delay by two years the point at which the nation’s debt would equal the size of the nation’s entire economy, according to the bipartisan center.

Sequestration was never intended to go into effect. Enacted as part of a deal to raise the nation’s borrowing authority in 2011 (PL 112-25), the cuts to domestic discretionary and military spending were intended to be so devastating as to prompt lawmakers to reach an agreement to avoid them. Were they to take effect, they would reduce discretionary spending by $1.2 trillion over 10 years, split between defense and nondefense accounts. That represents a 9.4 percent reduction for defense spending and an 8.2 percent decrease for other spending, according to the Office of Management and Budget.

Now, with Congress consumed over the question of extending expiring income tax rates, the sequester has been overshadowed. But some Republicans say they will not agree to any deal that does not curb spending.

“We still have a huge deficit,” Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said on CNN’s “State of the Union” with Candy Crowley on Sunday. “If we do not take on spending, then the cliff may not seem like a cliff but will be a downward slide to make us like Greece, no longer a viable economic power.”

Lawmakers could still turn their attention to amending or undoing the sequester early next year when Congress is likely to have to tackle an increase in the government’s borrowing authority, something expected to be needed by February. Legislation regarding the sequester could be attached to a debt limit bill.

But Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, says he will oppose doing away with the sequester unless Congress comes up with equivalent level of spending reductions. Either way, House Republicans are expected to insist on the spending cuts.

In May, the House passed a bill (HR 5652) that would replace the sequester with a series of cuts affecting only nondefense programs as well as mandatory programs.

Advocates have been mobilizing to fend off such spending cuts. The Committee for Education Funding sent a letter Saturday to members of Congress asking them to spare schools from the $4.8 billion in cuts under the sequester. Such reductions would slash funding to high-poverty schools, Head Start programs, after-school grants and programs for students with disabilities or those learning English, the committee said.

“At a minimum, we urge you to delay the sequester for one year, while a broader balanced budget deficit reduction plan is worked on by the next Congress,” the letter said.

Marion C. Blakey, president of the Aerospace Industries Association, also condemned lawmakers for leaving the sequester out of the negotiations.

“We know congressional leaders know the consequences of sequestration,” she said. “It would be a grave dereliction of duty to drop fixing it from a fiscal cliff bill. We can’t believe they would fail our military and our economy like that.”

The Office of Management and Budget has yet to determine where the cuts would come from and how many federal employees would be affected. A recent memo to agencies said the cuts could lead to furloughs or job losses, although it’s unclear how many.

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