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News Wrap: Last Attempts by Lawmakers to Prevent Sequester Fail

February 28, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
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HARI SREENIVASAN:  This was “sequester eve” in Washington, the last day before $85 billion in automatic budget cuts are due to begin. Eleventh-hour votes to prevent the cuts failed, and lawmakers left for a long weekend.

NewsHour congressional correspondent Kwame Holman has our report.

KWAME HOLMAN: As the Senate began work this morning, Majority Leader Harry Reid was still saying it wasn’t too late.

SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev.: We believe we have a balanced plan to remove the threat of the sequester. Everybody agrees, Republicans around the country, about 80 percent of the Americans agree it’s the right thing to do. Almost 60 percent of Republicans around the country agree it’s the right thing to do. The only Republicans in America that don’t agree are those that serve in Congress.

KWAME HOLMAN: Democrats offered a plan to cancel the sequester and replace it with a mix of tax increases and targeted spending cuts phased in over 10 years.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-K.y.: It isn’t a plan at all. It’s a gimmick.

KWAME HOLMAN: Republicans derided the bill, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell charged President Obama has manufactured a crisis.

MITCH MCCONNELL: Look, our country has a spending problem, a pretty massive one. Most of us in the chamber at least acknowledge that fact. But we can either address the problem in a smart way, or we can do it in the way he’s proposed.

KWAME HOLMAN: Another Republican, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, said the smart way is to rule out tax hikes and let the president decide the best way to implement spending cuts.

SEN. PAT TOOMEY, R-Pa.: It’s not necessary if we pass this legislation because it would give the president the flexibility to cut the items that wouldn’t be disruptive to our economy, would not be disruptive in any meaningful way.

KWAME HOLMAN: The White House rejected that idea out of hand.

Spokesman Jay Carney called it the worst of all worlds.

JAY CARNEY, White House Spokesman: This bill is an effort to shift the focus away from the need for the Congress to work toward a bipartisan compromise that would avoid sequestration.

KWAME HOLMAN: In the end, neither side could get the 60 votes needed to bring up its bill. The stalemate guaranteed the sequester will take effect before tomorrow ends.

At the same time, the top House and Senate leaders are due to meet with the president at the White House. It will be their first formal discussion on the matter.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Wall Street mostly marked time today in the run-up to the federal budget cuts. The Dow Jones industrial average lost nearly 21 points to close at 14,054 after coming close to its all-time high. And the Nasdaq fell two points to close at 3,160.

The Obama administration moved today to intervene in a challenge to California’s ban on gay marriage. It was widely reported the Justice Department is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the ban.

We get more from Chris Geidner, senior political and legal reporter for the website BuzzFeed.

Thanks for being with us.

Help us understand why this is so significant that the administration is getting involved.

CHRIS GEIDNER, BuzzFeed: Well, this is the United States Supreme Court hearing a case involving whether or not same-sex couples have the constitutional right to marry.

And this is the first time that they have heard such a case where the administration is weighing in and is saying that they think that this 2008 amendment is unconstitutional, that it violates their constitutional rights to not be allowed to marry.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  So, why did the administration get involved now? Was there pressure building? Because the president has said in the past that this is a states issue, right?

CHRIS GEIDNER: Right.

Well, I mean, there was pressure building from advocates based on the statements that the president made himself, saying in his inaugural address that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters should be treated equally under the law. It was going to be very hard to gel that and his own personal support for marriage equality with not taking a position in this case, which is obviously going to be at the fore of the important cases that the court’s going to be hearing.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  All right, Chris Geidner from BuzzFeed, thanks so much.

CHRIS GEIDNER: Thanks.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  President Obama plans to name a former law school colleague, Edith Ramirez, to chair the Federal Trade Commission. In that role, she will confront several major merger cases and online privacy issues. Ramirez worked with Mr. Obama on The Harvard Law Review. Later, as an attorney in Los Angeles, she specialized in business litigation. She has served on the FTC since 2010. Her designation as chairwoman doesn’t require Senate confirmation.

Bomb blasts erupted across Iraq today, killing at least 22 people and wounding dozens more. In Baghdad, a pair of bombs exploded almost simultaneously outside a fast food restaurant and a soccer field. Bombers also struck in two other towns to the south of the capital. The targets were in areas that are mostly home to Shiites. The attacks came as Sunnis have been mounting weekly protests against the Shiite-led government.

Those are some of the day’s major stories — now back to Judy.