Lawmakers Head for Exits As Sequester Deadline Arrives

BY Terence Burlij and Simone Pathe  March 1, 2013 at 8:44 AM EST

Two competing bills aimed at averting huge spending cuts failed Thursday in the Senate, virtually assuring that the $85 billion in across-the-board cuts will kick in after Friday night’s deadline. Photo by Sul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

The Morning Line

With the U.S. Capitol emptied out for the weekend, the focus of official Washington on Friday will turn to the White House, where President Obama and top congressional leaders are scheduled to sit down face-to-face and discuss the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts that are set to kick-in before day’s end.

The meeting comes a day after competing Republican and Democratic proposals to address the across-the-board reductions to defense and domestic programs failed to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to move forward in the Senate.

The prospects for a deal at this point appear slim, so Friday’s session would appear to be more about giving the appearance that leaders are trying to work out an agreement, but in all likelihood will result in both sides using the opportunity to hammer home their political points one more time.

Following the defeat of the Senate plans on Thursday, the president released a statement saying that Friday’s meeting offered a chance for members of both parties to chart “a path forward.” But the president also made clear that for him, that course must include additional revenues as part of the formula to bring down the deficit.

“We should work together to reduce our deficit in a balanced way — by making smart spending cuts and closing special interest tax loopholes,” the president said. “We can build on the over $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction we’ve already achieved, but doing so will require Republicans to compromise. That’s how our democracy works, and that’s what the American people deserve.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Republicans had already agreed to additional revenues in the fiscal cliff deal earlier this year and that now lawmakers should fulfill their promise to the American people to cut spending.

“Look, the American people will simply not accept replacing spending cuts agreed to by both parties with tax hikes. And I plan to make all of this clear to the president when I meet with him,” McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor.

McConnell followed up with a statement Friday that said, “I’m happy to discuss other ideas to keep our commitment to reducing Washington spending at today’s meeting. But there will be no last-minute, back-room deal and absolutely no agreement to increase taxes.”

The New York Times’ Michael Shear details some of the steps that will be taken once the president signs the letter making sequestration official, which White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Thursday has to be done by 11:59 p.m. Friday.

With the sequester deadline a near-certainty to pass, the focus will quickly shift to the next fiscal fight: funding for the federal government, which is set to run out later this month. Given the tenor of the debate this week, the question is whether lawmakers can begin talking to one another rather than past each other.

The Washington Post’s Lori Montgomery and Rosalind Helderman report that Democrats are signaling that they won’t seek to tie the sequester to the upcoming funding battle:

Last week, in meetings with liberal activists, administration officials suggested that they hoped to persuade Republicans to cancel the sequester as part of negotiations over the funding bill needed to keep the government open past March 27.

That now appears unlikely. House Republicans announced plans to vote next week on a measure that would keep government funding at sequester levels for the rest of the fiscal year while providing new flexibility to manage the cuts at the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Obama and Senate Democrats are angling for adjustments to that bill that would make the sequester easier for domestic agencies, as well. But neither the White House nor Senate leaders is threatening to block the House proposal.

Unlike with the sequester, failure to reach a deal on funding the government would have immediate consequences, raising the stakes considerably for lawmakers not to miss the next deadline.

VAWA RENEWED

Before leaving for the weekend the House did approve a renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, which had expired in 2011 and was stalled over Republican objections to protections involving gays and lesbians, Native Americans on tribal lands and victims of sex trafficking.

The vote was 286-138, with 199 Democrats and 87 Republicans supporting the measure. Hotline On Call breaks down GOP votes on the VAWA based on who’s feeling secure in their district and who’s eyeing higher office in 2014.

Judy Woodruff reported Thursday on the floor debate and then spoke with Ashley Parker of the New York Times and Cindy Southworth of National Network to End Domestic Violence.

Parker noted that political pressure had been building on Republican leaders in Congress to allow a vote on the Senate version, “especially after the 2012 elections, where they sort of took a drubbing with female voters.”

“They didn’t want to be responsible or seen as responsible, fairly or unfairly, for preventing the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act,” Parker added. “So they said they were not going to pass anything in the House that didn’t have bipartisan support. Obviously, the House version of the bill didn’t have bipartisan support. Democrats were united in their support against it. And so that’s why they allowed this Senate version to come to a vote and ultimately pass.”

Southworth, meanwhile, said that the legislation, first enacted in 1994, has had “remarkable” effects:

Just since 1994, we have seen almost a 50 percent increase in reporting … and that’s not 50 percent increase in incidents of domestic violence. It’s more victims reaching out. They’re calling the police. They know there are services available and they’re getting help.

We have also seen almost a 30 percent — or a 34 percent even — decrease in homicides of women, and even more startling, almost 60 percent less homicides of men, primarily by their female partners when they felt they had no other choice.

Watch the segment here or below:

LINE ITEMS

  • The Obama administration late Thursday opted to get involved in the Supreme Court case considering the constitutionality of California’s gay marriage ban, asking the high court to overturn it. Hari Sreenivasan talked with BuzzFeed’s Chris Geidner to outline what’s next. Watch that here or below.

[ DUE TO RIGHTS RESTRICTIONS, VIDEO IS NO LONGER AVAILABLE ]

  • Roll Call’s Daniel Newhauser and David Drucker report that House immigration negotiators may be nearing some form of compromise, but as Republicans prepare for next week’s listening sessions, it sounds like they would rather take a piecemeal approach instead of tackling a comprehensive plan.
  • The Washington press corps weighs in on “Woodwardgate,” with National Journal’s Ron Fournier calling for greater civility from insider sources, while others question what was so remarkable about Gene Sperling’s emails to the Washington Post reporter.
  • The Hill reports that lawmakers were peeved at being left out of the loop on Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement the U.S. would provide aid to the Syrian opposition.
  • Virginia Lieutenant Gov. Bill Bolling emailed supporters to ask for their advice about launching a bid for governor as an “Independent Republican.” Bolling writes: “I need to know if you believe there is a realistic opening in this campaign for a credible independent candidate, or are you satisfied with the choice between Mr. Cuccinelli and Mr. McAuliffe?”
  • Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano told ABC she was not privy to the cost-cutting decision to release “low-risk illegal immigrant detainees” ahead of the sequester’s hit.
  • Perhaps swayed by his neighbors to the east and west, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett recently requested a meeting with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to discuss Medicaid expansion.
  • Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell restored voting rights to George W. Bush advisor Scooter Libby, among 1,000 other felons.
  • Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., is urging New Yorkers not to donate to Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., amid reports he’s fundraising off of Wall Streeters, because of his “no” vote on Sandy aid. He also chalked up CPAC’s snubbing of Chris Christie to the Sandy vote, saying of his party, “They are more and more taking on this anti-Northeast attitude. We say fine, if you want to be anti-Northeast, then the Northeast is going to be anti-them.”
  • Arkansas’ Republican legislature overrode Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe’s veto of a measure restricting abortion.
  • Today’s tidbit from NewsHour partner Face the Facts USA examines who will be covered when states are forced to adopt health insurance exchanges by Jan. 2014.

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Christina Bellantoni contributed to this report.

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