The $85 billion in automatic spending cuts known as sequestration is set to take effect by 11:59 p.m. Friday night, in the absence of a deal between President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans to avoid them. Both sides blame the other for the inability to strike a compromise to stop sequestration from happening, and talks held Friday morning produced no result.
Originally designed to be so unpalatable to both sides that it wouldn't be allowed to take effect, sequestration will indiscriminately slash both defense and domestic spending. Republicans repeatedly state that the country's massive deficit must be addressed, and cutting federal spending is the way to do it. The party, however, refuses to consider tax increases as an option to deal with the deficit. Democrats call for a mix of both budget cuts and minor entitlement reform as well as tax increases to address the budget shortfall.
On Thursday, the Senate failed to pass both Republican and Democratic bills to prevent sequestration from happening. The GOP bill would have given Obama the power to determine where the spending cuts would take place, but some members of the Republican caucus opposed giving the president such authority. Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona said:
I say to my Republican friends, if you want to just give the president flexibility as to how to enact these cuts in defense spending, then why don't we just go home and give him the money?
The Democratic bill included both spending cuts and revenue increases in attempt to avoid sequestration. It too was soundly defeated, with Republicans rejecting the idea of closing tax loopholes and instituting a minimum tax for millionaires. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky bashed the Democratic plan Thursday, and also blamed Obama for the absence of a deal:
As for the President, he too has yet to put forward a serious plan that could pass either the House or the Democrat-controlled Senate. And he's refused to engage in substantive discussions with congressional leaders.
Obama, however, said Friday following his meeting with congressional leaders that it is up to Republicans to come to the bargaining table, but he can't force a deal:
What I can't do is force Congress to do the right thing … We just need Republicans in Congress to catch up with their own party and their country on this. And if they did so, we could make a lot of progress.
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