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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.
Some defense hawks, however, have seemed open to working with Democrats to come up with a way to undo the sequester cuts to national security. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said that he had discussed the subject with the other party as recently as Monday.
“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.
Other Republicans, however, seem to be itching for a shutdown fight, implying it would be worth it if the end result was defunding Obamacare. For weeks, Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Marco Rubio of Florida and others have been threatening to vote against any spending bills that fund the implementation of the 2010 health care law.
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.
Carney repeated that vow Monday and Tuesday.