Prospects for Deal to Avert Sequester Appear Grim

BY Christina Bellantoni and Terence Burlij  February 25, 2013 at 8:50 AM EDT

President Obama spoke Tuesday from the White House with emergency responders in attendance. The president continues to pressure Congress to avert automatic budget cuts set to kick in Friday. Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Morning Line

A central question hangs in the air as the week begins. (And it’s not why the Academy would ask the First Lady to award the Best Picture Oscar.)

Can President Obama and Congress defy the odds and come to a deal before Friday, when $85 billion in automatic cuts to defense and domestic spending are scheduled to begin taking effect? And if they can’t negotiate a fix or a delay, just how badly states and local governments will feel the pain, and for how long?

The fundamentals of the argument hardly have changed since summer 2011, when a compromise measure passed the House, 269-161, and the Senate, 74-26, in an effort that was designed to force the two parties to work together to cut the deficit and get government spending in check.

Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats this week will attempt to advance legislation raising taxes on millionaires, ending oil and agriculture subsidies, rolling back tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas and closing tax loopholes. Republicans who control the House call it a non-starter, and as lawmakers return to Washington after a weeklong recess, there’s little movement in either direction.

Much of the political debate over the weekend centered on which side was responsible for coming up with the idea of the automatic cuts, known as sequestration, in the first place.

Author and Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward wrote an editorial noting that the Obama administration had initiated the sequester plan, and charged that the president was “moving the goal posts” by demanding that revenues be part of any deal to replace the looming cuts.

In turn, the White House released a memo pushing back on that assertion, even going so far as to highlight a section from Woodward’s 2012 book, “The Price of Politics,” in which he reports that House Republicans offered Democrats $600 billion in revenues to replace part of the sequester.

On a press call Sunday afternoon, the White House unveiled state-by-state reports detailing expected effects of the sequester, emphasizing the threat to middle class families and jobs and blaming Congressional Republicans for resisting compromise. NewsHour Politics Desk Assistant Simone Pathe summarized the release.

The consequences administration officials detailed are not new; many echo public calls to action from the administration in previous weeks. Following the Department of Defense’s furlough announcement last week, state reports identify furloughed civilian DOD employees, with 64,000 in California and 90,000 in Virginia, for example.

Other potential victims of sequestration emphasized in the state reports are education, safety and social spending programs. In Texas, for instance, the White House expects Head Start services would be cut for 4,800 children. And in Ohio, they project 5,040 fewer children will receive vaccines. Many states would lose federal funds for meals for seniors.

Each state report also details nationwide effects projected by the Office of Management and Budget: 10,000 teachers’ jobs, in addition to special education resources, would be jeopardized. Small business loan guarantees would be reduced. Cuts to research would not only eliminate scientific jobs but slow medical advances, while reduced funding for food safety inspections would put all Americans at risk.

Touching off the week’s news cycle with these reports, the administration is making a final push to localize and humanize the impact of the sequester ahead of Mr. Obama’s visit to Newport News, Va., on Tuesday. “The president is willing to compromise, but on behalf [of] the middle class he cannot accept a deal that undercuts their economic security,” the reports note.

The Washington Post examined how the severity of the cuts — and any potential delay — creates a political gamble. If the cuts aren’t so deep, or if local governments can minimize their impact, does that invalidate the purpose of the sequester to begin with?

The nation’s governors are in Washington for an annual meeting and over the weekend decried the partisanship and bitter politicking that they said brought things to this level.

So, are there any signs of reaching agreement? It’s not an entirely lost cause, by some accounts. Roll Call’s David Drucker and Jonathan Strong preview one tax hike that Republicans might agree to — the carried interest loophole. (And it’s worth pointing out that Republican Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell won a major victory over the weekend that might surprise you — a $3.5 billion package to fund transportation improvements — especially given Republicans control the state legislature.)

On Friday, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood warned the sequester could mean long lines at airports and big delays for air travelers attempting to get around the country. On the NewsHour, Ray Suarez talked with Lisa Rein of the Washington Post about LaHood’s comments and the increasing threat of sequester across government agencies.

Watch the segment here or below:

LINE ITEMS

  • Record-keeping for guns purchased at private sales is the sticking point as lawmakers near bipartisan agreement on expanding the background check system.
  • Congressional staffers are among those in sequester limbo, The Hill’s Molly Hooper reports.
  • Late Friday, the Obama administration filed a brief asking the Supreme Court to strike down a key provision in the Defense of Marriage Act.
  • “It’s a critical tool, it’s not the only tool,” Mr. Obama told “The Black Eagle” radio show on Sirius XM, speaking about the Voting Rights Act ahead of Wednesday’s Supreme Court arguments.
  • And civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., penned a defense of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, writing, “The right to vote is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have in a democracy. I risked my life defending that right.”
  • Eric Cantor gets the Ryan Lizza treatment and talks about the path forward for his GOP.
  • Stuart Stevens writes in the Washington Post that Republicans need to do more than just improve social media skills if they want to win national elections.
  • The New York Times’ Nicholas Confessore details the fundraising goals for Organizing for Action, the offshoot of the president’s re-election campaign.
  • House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte signaled Friday that gun legislation will get a vote in the House this year.
  • Huffington Post’s Jennifer Bendery reports that House Republicans on Friday quietly revealed their version of the Violence Against Women Act, which omits the Senate-passed LGBT protections and expanded coverage for Native American victims of domestic abuse.
  • Tribune’s Christi Parsons had a great weekend piece on some of the original young Obama staffers heading out. And after they leave the White House March 1, Tommy Vietor and Jon Favreau will form a new firm.
  • Mitt and Ann Romney will be on Fox News Sunday next weekend.
  • Energy Secretary Steven Chu will return to Stanford University.
  • The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent reports that the House Democrats will campaign on the minimum wage issue in 2014, and quotes Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as saying it’s a simple message for her party.
  • Poynter weighs in on Tiger Woods-gate.
  • Planned Parenthood released television ads Friday hitting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; Sens. Dan Coats, R-Ind.; Thad Cochran, R-Miss.; Pat Roberts, R-Kan.; and Reps. Lamar Smith, R-Texas; and Frank Wolf, R-Va., over the amicus brief they signed this week defending Hobby Lobby’s suit against the administration’s contraception coverage requirement.
  • In the Los Angeles Times, Mark Z. Barabak tracks Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s evolution.
  • First Lady Michelle Obama has the mom dancing thing down.
  • Behold! The Senate Republican Conference joined Instagram.
  • Yes, that was ex-Rep Dennis Kucinich and his wife Elizabeth attending the Oscars.
  • Going to South by Southwest next month? Check out all the cool things PBS is doing at the annual interactive festival in Austin. And don’t miss Christina’s March 11 panel about partisan media.
  • Salon’s Jillian Rayfield finds as good an excuse as any to do a Bo Obama slide show — is the First Dog a secret Muslim?
  • Relatedly: Dream. Job.
  • Today’s tidbit from NewsHour partner Face the Facts USA notes that the majority of American commuters still drive to work in cars by themselves.

NEWSHOUR ROUNDUP

  • Mark Shields and David Brooks talked about immigration reform, gun control and sequestration Friday night. Watch the segment here or below:
  • And the guys made their Oscar picks with Hari Sreenivasan in Friday’s Doubleheader.

Watch the segment here or below:

  • Judy Woodruff talked with espnW reporter Brant James about Danica Patrick ahead of the Daytona 500.
  • The PBS “After Newtown” project wrapped Friday with a piece on public health amid Chicago’s gun violence. See that, and a roundup of our broad look at gun violence and society, here. Here is a detailed look at public sentiment on gun issues, from Cassie M. Chew and Elizabeth Shell, and here is a live chat we did looking at foreign governments and gun policy.
  • Don’t miss Jason Kane’s report on a program in an Ohio middle school that teaches children how to cope with stress, and Justin Scuiletti’s coverage of actor Bradley Cooper’s advocacy for mental health awareness.
  • Astronauts did a Google hangout from space.
  • Kwame Holman reports on the president’s outreach to black leaders.
  • On Wednesday the Supreme Court will examine a constitutional challenge to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The landmark case asks whether the act is still necessary and whether voters still risk disenfranchisement in certain parts of the country. The NewsHour will examine in depth the questions this case raises. And we’d like your help as we go even deeper. Get details about our Oral History project here. You can record your memory now using the button below, or call (703) 594-6PBS to share your story.

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Katelyn Polantz and Simone Pathe contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

Follow the politics team on Twitter: @cbellantoni, @burlij, @elizsummers, @kpolantz, @indiefilmfan, @tiffanymullon, @dePeystah and @meenaganesan.