Get ready for the sequester cuts

The prospects for a deal to prevent the harsh automatic budget cuts look increasingly grim

Topics: Sequestration, Budget Showdown, Budget cuts, Republicans, Barack Obama,

Friday is the deadline for Congress to reach a deal to prevent the sequester from going into effect, which would mean $85 billion in automatic, Draconian spending cuts. Things are not looking good.

Both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will likely hold votes before Wednesday on the Democrat and Republican plans to prevent the sequester, respectively. But both measures are expected to fail.

From the Washington Post:

The Democratic plan would delay the sequester until January, replacing the across-the-board cuts with a mix of $110 billion worth of new tax revenue and more-narrowly tailored spending cuts. It includes $54 billion in revenue by ensuring that most millionaires pay at least 30 percent of their income to the Internal Revenue Service — something that prompted McConnell to dismiss it immediately as a tax that could not pass.

The GOP plan is still being crafted. Officials said Sunday it might include a provision that would leave the sequester in place but allow more flexibility for agency leaders in imposing the cuts.

On the House side, the New York Times reports that the split within the House Republican caucus is definitely not helping the matter:

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With so many rank-and-file Republicans adamant that they would rather see the cuts stand than raise any taxes, Speaker John A. Boehner finds himself in a bind. Three times this year — on the tax deal to resolve the fiscal cliff, on a measure to suspend the debt ceiling and on a package of Hurricane Sandy relief — he has let legislation pass the House against the votes of a majority of Republicans. In 2011, Republicans accepted caps on military spending as well.

Each time, the speaker has promised to stand his ground on the next showdown with the president. That showdown comes this week.

On Sunday night, the Obama administration released a state-by-state breakdown of the impact of the cuts, and which federal programs would be slashed the most should they go into effect. Among the funding facing the harshest cuts is for teachers and schools, military readiness, funding for victims of domestic abuse, grants to states for law enforcement and crime prevention, public health and protection for clean air and clean water.

A spokesman for Boehner responded to the report: “Republicans in the House have voted — twice — to replace President Obama’s sequester with smarter spending cuts. The White House needs to spend less time explaining to the press how bad the sequester will be and more time actually working to stop it.”

But, as the Wall Street Journal reports, lawmakers are quietly shifting their focus from preventing the sequester cuts to another budget deadline: March 27, when funding for government operations will run out and a government shutdown will ensue:

Senior aides to House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) have begun discussing a bill being prepared by House Republicans to fund government operations through September. Republicans want the bill to extend operating funds at the lower levels set to kick in Friday and to give more flexibility to the Pentagon to manage its cuts.

Jillian Rayfield is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on politics. Follow her on Twitter at @jillrayfield or email her at jrayfield@salon.com.

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