Three days to the sequester: What is Congress doing?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013 - 9:00pm

Three days remain before $85 billion in widely disliked forced spending cuts will be put in motion. So what's Congress doing Tuesday to deal with the situation?

There's not much substantive movement yet -- at least publicly. But there's plenty of increasingly angry sound around the issue.

No floor votes scheduled, but...

There are no floor votes related to the spending cuts scheduled on Tuesday in either the House or the Senate. However, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, are both expected to push alternative proposals this week.

One GOP idea under discussion is keeping the overall level of cuts in place while giving President Barack Obama more flexibility to decide how they will be carried out.

While hardly anyone defends the pending cuts to Pentagon and other government agencies, the idea of giving the president more power over spending decisions is controversial in both parties. Among other things, it would place the responsibility for the cuts more squarely on the president's shoulders.

"This whole issue of giving the administration or Cabinet members the ability to make these cuts is a false choice for us to make," said Rep. James Clyburn, D-South Carolina. "This is not for the executive (branch). This is for the legislative."

"Rearranging cuts is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic," Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, told CNN.

The issue may move closer to a resolution Tuesday as rank and file Democrats and Republicans huddle behind closed doors. One of the biggest proponents of greater flexibility for the president is House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin.

New taxes or bust?

Meeting with reporters Tuesday afternoon, Reid said, "Until there's some agreement with revenue, I believe we should just go ahead" with the current package of forced spending cuts. Most Republicans insist new taxes cannot be part of any deal to replace the current cuts.

Boehner tells senators to "get off their ass"

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, teed off on the Democratic-controlled Senate on Tuesday.

"We have moved a bill in the House twice," he said, referring to legislation approved by the GOP-controlled chamber in the last Congress. "We should not have to move a third bill before the Senate gets off their ass and begins to do something."

Reid, who grew up in Nevada, responded by telling reporters, "I was raised in a little town that had 13 brothels in it, so I am used to some pretty salty language. ... I think he should understand who is sitting on their posterior. We are doing our best here to pass something."

Boehner isn't "bringing up something (in the House) because he can't pass it," Reid added. "He can't get his caucus to agree on anything."

California Rep. Xavier Becerra, a member of the House Democratic leadership, also fired back.

"Speaker Boehner may be talking about legislation that was very partisan," Becerra said. "But I don't think I need to give the speaker a lesson in legislating or how government runs, but whatever was done last year that didn't get signed into law has evaporated. It is gone. It does not exist. This is a new year, a new session of Congress and it's time for everyone to get to work."

Boehner bashes Obama for using military "as a prop"

Boehner also ripped the president's trip to Virginia on Tuesday, which is meant to highlight the impact of looming defense cuts.

"I don't think the president's focused on trying to find a solution" to the forced spending cuts, Boehner said. "The president has been traveling all over the country and today is going down to Newport News in order to use our military men and women as a prop in yet another campaign rally to support his tax hikes."

McConnell pins the blame on Obama

McConnell hammered home the GOP message that Obama's the guilty party when it comes to assigning blame for the cuts.

"It's time to put the record straight," McConnell said on the Senate floor. "The president's top aides proposed the sequester as a way of helping the White House avoid a debt limit debate during last year's campaign. In essence, the deal we struck was that, in exchange for avoiding a second vote before the election, the debt limit would be paired with spending cuts only and would not involve a tax increase."

Obama "had more than a year and a half to revisit his proposal and work with us to prevent it. He obviously thought his time and energies would be better spent elsewhere."

Reid warns airport security lines "will stretch out the door"

Reid played the air travel misery card in his Senate floor remarks on Tuesday. "Airports will close, due to a shortage of air traffic controllers," Reid said, echoing administration warnings. "And lines at the airports that do stay open will stretch out the door, as TSA workers are furloughed.

At Las Vegas's airport, "through which 40 million tourists from around the world travel each year, security lines will take an hour longer than they do today," Reid predicted. "Unfortunately, Republicans are standing in the way of a solution. They would sacrifice 750,000 American jobs rather than ask multi-millionaires to pay a penny more."

Pelosi bemoans the "drive-by Congress"

"We've been gone for 10 days," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, told Hill reporters. "We've come back. We'll be gone by Thursday at 3 o'clock when we have a deadline facing us. We're practically becoming a drive-by Congress, a drive-by Congress when we have important work to do."

The Republicans, Pelosi said, claim "they're kicking the can down the road. It's not kick. I don't think they're even kicking the can down the road. I think they're nudging the potato across the table with their nose. There's not much that is being accomplished by what they are doing. This is just completely irresponsible. It's mindless." 

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