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Let the sequester begin: Senate fails to block spending cuts

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Squabbling away the hours, the Senate swatted aside last-ditch plans to block $85 billion in broad-based federal spending reductions Thursday as Republicans and Democrats blamed each other for the latest outbreak of gridlock and the Obama administration readied plans to put the cuts into effect.

So entrenched were the two parties that the Senate chaplain, Barry Black, opened the day's session with a prayer that beseeched a higher power to intervene.

"Rise up, O God, and save us from ourselves," he said.

The immediate impact of the cuts on the public was uncertain, and the administration pulled back on its earlier warnings of long lines developing quickly at airports and teacher layoffs affecting classrooms. A day before the cuts were due to begin, the only action was no action.

On the Senate floor, a Republican proposal requiring Obama to propose alternative cuts that would cause less disruption in essential government services fell to overwhelming Democratic opposition, 62-38. Moments later, a Democratic alternative to spread the cuts over a decade and replace half with higher taxes on millionaires and corporations won a bare majority, 51-49, but that was well shy of the 60 needed to advance. Republicans opposed it without exception.

Though furloughs are a fear for some, especially certain federal workers, there is little sign of business worry, let alone panic in the nation. Stocks rose Thursday for a third straight day. Two months after the "fiscal cliff" showdown, most people don't see the new cuts as all that scary — and this time they're not staring at a tax increase, either.

Still, there was talk of crisis.

"We have the opportunity to avoid the kind of calamity and disaster that is being threatened and is completely unnecessary," said Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who co-authored the Republican proposal.

"The question is, are we going to achieve these savings through badly designed spending cuts that make no attempt whatever to distinguish between more sensible government spending and less sensible spending?"

Sen. Patty Murray of Washington said that was precisely what Democrats had tried to do by proposing the deferral of Pentagon cuts until U.S. combat troops have come home from Afghanistan in two years' time.

At the same time, she said the Democrats had reasonably proposed replacing half of the pending cuts with higher taxes on "the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations."

Across the Capitol, House Speaker John Boehner led the chorus of Republican critics, saying that "Obama and Senate Democrats are demanding more tax hikes to fuel more 'stimulus' spending."

In fact, the Democratic measure included small increases in funding for a variety of small programs such as biodiesel education, assistance for biomass crops and certification of organic foods.

With no last-minute plans to seek a delay in the looming cuts, Obama invited Boehner and the other top leaders of Congress to a White House meeting on the subject on Friday.

It was not clear whether he would seek negotiations to replace the across-the-board cuts before they begin to bite.

But already, some Republicans held out hope the current struggle might lead to talks on completing work on the final piece of a deficit reduction package that has been more than two agonizing years in the making.

"The objective here ought to be not just to deal with sequester but to deal with the underlying spending problems, which require tax reform" as well as reform of benefit programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security," said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

Democratic senators emerged from a lunch with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and top Pentagon officials and said the current cuts could not be allowed to stand.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Pa., said the session had confirmed to him that as currently constituted, the cuts were 'a really, really dumb idea."

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., said if Obama and congressional leaders can't agree on a replacement measure it will be imperative that Congress do so before next Wednesday.

In a cycle of crisis followed by compromise over the past two years, Obama and congressional Republicans have agreed to more than $3.6 trillion in long-term deficit savings over a decade. While much of that has come from spending restraint, the GOP let legislation pass late last year that raises taxes on upper-income Americans by $600 million.

None of the savings to date has come from the big benefit programs that lawmakers in both parties say must be tackled if the country is to gain control over its finances. Each party fears the political fallout of confronting them on their own, but Democrats, in particular, are reluctant to scale back programs that they count as their political birthright.

Their rival speeches on the Senate floor weren't the first time that Toomey and Murray disagreed on economic issues.

Both served on a so-called congressional Supercommittee in 2011 that was charged with producing at least $1.2 trillion in savings over a decade.

The panel deadlocked, automatically triggering the across-the-board cuts that now are imminent.

As constituted, the cuts would total $85 billion through the end of the current budget year—Sept. 30—half each from defense and non-defense programs. Large parts of the budget are off-limits, including programs for veterans and Social Security.

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  • ReALLy
    The President can veto a bill, but he is not responsible for writing law or bills. The Congress and Senate write pass laws and spend the money. The problems in Washington for the American public should not be a left or right issue, but an American issue. Don't be influenced by the media talk shows who have bias opinions. Real Journalism is out the door. This country is divided due to the "DoG N Pony" show in Washington and I am one who is tired of these theatrics. The last 2-3 years congress has tied the hands of the American people. The one accomplishment by our current politians is dividing the people of this country. Its time for congress and the senate to help America and not special interest. The American people are accountable for the representitives we are sending to Washington. Re-electing the person year after year is contributing to the corruption and disfunction in Washington. Until the People of this country choose a different person to represent them in Washington nothing will change. Make sure when you are pointing your finger, placing blame, that you are standing in front of a mirror.
  • media
    obama is able to get away with all that he does because of the complicit media. as soon as people start realizing that the media is lying to them and not reporting the facts obamas agenda will fall through the cracks. the fact that obama was even reelected is a direct reflection of the lack of morals and intellect of majority of americans. the media is creating a low information voter. just today obama stated when asked a question that 'i am not a dictator'. funny, nixon stated he wasn't a thief right before he was impeached. obama is a fraud. the liberal mindset equates obama to trying to fix the problems of the GOP, as if he's constantly trying to root out the bad guy, instead of understanding that obama is creating the problems he's constantly campaining against.
  • Finally Cuts
    We, the American people, have been promised spending cuts but all is tax on those who have worked hard to make money. Washington does not understand our budget and how they are giving away our kids future. Bring on the cuts and let everyone start looking out for themselves instead of government taking over our lives.
  • Budget
    MarcusR...blame the GOP? I blame you and the line of thought from the empowered. Hope it was appropriate to voice my opinion or is yours the only one that matters?
  • Impeachment
    While Obama claims that he had no knowledge of the release of the ICE prisoners, he had already said that would have to happen. It did happen, however, the holding area that they were in was budgeted and set up to bed 34,000 and were housing only 30,500 at the time HIS people let them go. It was a plan to ramp up his scare tactics and it was/is illegal to release those prisoners. Some one (if Obama can keep claiming he's not to blame for this maybe he can skate on this one too {like fast and furious})but someone must be sent to prison for breaking the law. I'm sick to death of Obama's constanct campaigning. This is the most devisive presidency I have ever experienced in my lifetime. President Obama is not a good leader. He is devisive and like a child when he doesn't get his way. If saner heads can prevail, he will be tried (impeached) for his constant disdain for following the lawful way of going about his job. IMPEACH OBAMA
  • Obama is a waste
    boils down to republicans wanting to eliminate waste and cut spending. we are currently spending 3.65 billion per day! more than we bring in. we have a deficit of 1.4 trillion and a debt of near 17 trillion. how stupid do libs have to be to think we can just tax our way out of this by sticking it to the rich. yachts and private jet loopholes is a stupid talking point of obamas that completely ignores a real solution. obama vetoed a bill that would have allowed him to decide where the cuts took place. instead he wants to cut military and then blame it on the GOP. looks like Markus has fallen in line with Obamas sheep. its hilarious that libs think that all we need to fix things is a dem House that goes along with obamas agenda to increase spending creating higher debt for generations and more government dependence.
  • Sequester - Where?
    There will not be a reduction in military spending. The budget for the DoD actually increased for 2013-14, but at a rate much lower than the Military Industrial Complex expected. As for Veteran Services, well those cuts will require a transfusion in the near future. This fight is all about revenue and not about expenditure reduction.
  • The street lights are still on
    There will be no forced austerity. http://www.regriding.com/2013/03/forced-austerity-in-usa-day-1-lets-not.html
  • Correct that title
    It's wasn't the Senate, it was the Republicans in the Senate. The Senate voted in favor of the bill, but the Republicans filibustered the bill. The people lose, again, because of Republicans.
  • Sky is Falling
    i heard the sequester is going to be so bad that we won't have any peanut butter easter eggs this year. its a 2% cut from budget and obama had the option to choose where the cuts would go, instead he chose to run around the country playing chicken little trying to pin everything that is bad on the GOP instead of coming up with ways to cut real waste. Obama's whole plan boiled down scare tactics and cutting what would hurt the most, and then hoping with a complicit media that he could place the blame of everything that is wrong in our economy on the sequester created by the GOP and make americans fear any future 'spending cut'. Obama wants people to believe that our economy is in the drain and people find work only because the GOP in the House is obstructing bigger government. Instead, slowly people are beginning to realize this guy is a fraud. Obama can campaign against all that is bad, but eventually people will associate him not with the guy trying to fix things, but instead the guy who's policies are inhibiting a better economy and hurting the very people his speeches promise to help.

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