Republicans on Wednesday rejected President Obama's proposal to postpone $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts, and politicians of both parties warned that a March 1 sequester that would slash military and domestic programs and jeopardize the nation's economic recovery is now more likely than ever.
"It's probably going to happen," Rep. Robert Scott, D-Va., told The Washington Examiner on Wednesday as Democrats left the House for a two-day retreat in Leesburg.
Republicans believe they hold the leverage in the sequester stalemate because polls show the public wants to rein in government spending.
"Republicans have the upper hand, because by doing nothing, they get what they want -- real cuts," said Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak.
Democrats say if the sequester goes into effect, Republicans will be blamed for saying no to Obama's idea to delay it for a few months by raising taxes and making cuts.
"They have no message, no strategy, no plan," Democratic strategist Doug Schoen said of the Republicans.
The Congressional Budget Office has warned that allowing the sequester to take place will raise the unemployment rate to above 9 percent and slash the nation's struggling rate of economic growth in half. Local officials say the sequester could cause a recession in the D.C. area because so many residents rely on the federal government for employment and contracts.
House Republicans, in an effort to dodge any blame for the sequester, passed a bill in the last Congress to avert it by substituting some of the arbitrary defense and domestic cuts with less harsh spending reductions.
But the bill died when the session ended, and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he does not intend to reintroduce the measure again and will instead leave it to the Democratically-led Senate to act on its own plan.
So far this Congress, neither Republicans nor Democrats has proposed legislation to offset the sequester funding that can win bipartisan support.
"You cannot make $1.2 trillion in cuts that anyone would want to be associated with here," Scott said, explaining the Democratic position.
The Democratic alternative -- raising taxes to pay for the sequester -- is a nonstarter with Republicans, who say Democrats already raised taxes in last month's "fiscal cliff" deal, increasing rates on those earning more than $400,000.
Boehner said Thursday that Republicans want budget cuts and entitlement reform to achieve the savings needed to offset the sequester.
"Americans know that another tax hike isn't going to help them," Boehner said. "What they want is to get spending under control so that the economy can grow and they have opportunities again."
The looming sequester has divided the GOP, with some willing to accept it because it would force significant reductions in federal spending. But the defense hawks in Congress warn it would seriously damage military readiness.
The defense budget was already slashed by $487 billion over the next 10 years as part of the 2011 deal to raise the nation's borrowing limit.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard McKeon, R-Calif., said he has met with top military leaders, who say they cannot reduce costs any further.
"They have told me we have gone past cutting the fat, we've gone past cutting the meat, we're into the bone," McKeon said.