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Behind the rhetorical war over who is to blame for the sequester, Senate Democrats and Republicans are putting forward proposals that could be the foundation of a future deal to replace the automatic spending cuts likely to take effect Friday.
Lawmakers have long been targeting the March 27 deadline for keeping the government funded as the more pivotal cutoff date for action. But Senate leaders this week will vote on dueling sequester replacement packages that appear designed to test the bipartisan appeal of their general frameworks.
Meanwhile, both sides are bracing for the Obama administration to ratchet up the pressure by front-loading the effects of the sequester during the month of March. The thinking is that creating instantaneous pain that affects the public at large will pressure the GOP to negotiate by month’s end.
The White House effort to play up the dramatic effects of the scheduled across-the-board cuts began in earnest Feb. 22, with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood appearing at a White House press briefing.
“What I’m trying to do is wake up members of Congress on the Republican side,” LaHood told reporters. “As a former [GOP] member of Congress of 14 years, I urge my former colleagues to address this issue when they get back next Monday and to work on a long-term, balanced solution to our deficit challenges.”
LaHood said that as part of $600 billion in cuts to the Federal Aviation Administration’s fiscal 2013 budget, 100 air traffic control facilities at smaller airports would close, midnight shifts at 60 other towers would end and the “vast majority” of the FAA’s 47,000 employees would be furloughed one day per pay period. Many expect similarly dramatic proclamations from agencies and departments in the days and weeks ahead, especially as congressional committee heads demand more answers about where cuts will be made to satisfy the law.
The fight over the sequester is just the most recent example of the distrust between the White House and Congress that has marred the continuing deficit reduction fight. Senate Democrats are still bruised by the fiscal-cliff fight that ended in 2012. According to multiple sources, Senate Democrats were more than willing to go over the cliff and let taxes on all Americans rise temporarily to gain maximum leverage against Republicans in resolving issues beyond taxes, such as the sequester.