McConnell noted that he expected the White House to push for sequester relief, but he rejected the idea of using new revenue to offset sequester cuts.
For their part, Senate Republicans continued to draw a hard line on the sequester — demanding that a stopgap bill stick to the House’s $967 billion level barring a larger budget deal.
“That’s the law. That’s what we have to stick to,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., didn’t sound any more inclined to budge.
“My goal is to not walk away from the commitment we made on a bipartisan basis to the American people just two years ago to reduce spending, largely on the discretionary side, by $2.1 trillion over the next 10 years,” McConnell said.
While McConnell noted that he expected the White House to push for sequester relief, he rejected the idea of using new revenue to offset sequester cuts.
“I have, speaking for myself, no interest in reopening the subject of additional taxes,” McConnell said.
“Chit chat [about changing sequester cuts] becomes real when the threat gets better defined,” Graham said.
“The best thing that can happen for a guy like me is to make clear the consequence of sequestration and have that play out in terms of the world in which we live. It makes it harder to do Syria. It makes it harder to do Iran.”
Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., also said he is interested in a deal: “I would gladly swap sequester if we get entitlement reform. That’s the way you change sequester.”
But that’s exactly the kind of deal that has eluded Congress for more than two years.
Reid so far is holding firm. A senior Senate Democratic aide suggested that if Republicans insist on keeping the sequester and refuse to compromise on revenue issues, they would own an ensuing shutdown.
“It would be a shame if Republicans shut down the government to keep a bad policy Ben Bernanke says is a key drag on economic growth right now,” a senior Senate Democratic aide said.
There remain doubts on Capitol Hill, however, on just how much resolve Obama will show on the issue.
The president agreed to sign a catchall spending bill in March even though it failed to lift the sequester — saying the country didn’t need another crisis. But that decision — along with the fiscal-cliff deal that has looked worse for Democrats with each passing day — effectively robbed the president and Democrats of leverage to force Republicans to the negotiating table.
Indeed, Republicans led by Boehner are back to demanding even deeper cuts in return for another increase in the debt ceiling, ignoring the president’s vow not to negotiate on that issue.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.