POLITICS

Congress leaves town after failing to stop sequester

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Politics,Congress,Susan Ferrechio,Politics Digest,Politics Ticker

Missing another self-imposed deadline, Congress left town Thursday after rejecting two more deficit-reduction plans that would have prevented $85 billion in automatic cuts from kicking in Friday.

Both the House and Senate called it quits for the week despite warnings from both parties that the automatic cuts, known as the sequester, would devastate popular domestic programs and undercut the Pentagon's ability to protect the nation.

"We've tried everything we can," said Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Congressional leaders are scheduled to meet with President Obama at the White House on Friday, an indication that negotiations will continue despite the missed deadline. There was no indication, however, that they've settled the biggest obstacle to a compromise: Democrats' insistence that taxes be raised to help reduce the deficit and Republican demands that all of the reduction be done through spending cuts.

Republicans "will not budge on anything dealing with revenue. Period," Reid said.

House Republican leaders countered that Democrats already got their tax increase when Congress in January agreed to raise taxes on those earning $400,000 or more a year.

"Ultimately, the president got his revenues, and he got it his way, through higher rates," said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. "And given those facts, the revenue issue is now closed."

Before leaving town, the Senate considered two more deficit-reduction proposals, one from Republicans and one from Democrats. Neither proposal passed.

The Republican proposal, defeated in a 62-38 vote, would have kept the sequester cuts in place for the year, but it would have given President Obama the authority to decide what should be cut. Seven Republicans joined all of the chamber's Democrats in voting against it, either because they worried about cuts at the Pentagon or because they didn't want to give Obama that much budget authority.

"We could at least minimize the damage of these cuts," Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the bill's co-sponsor, argued before it was defeated.

The Senate also defeated, on a 51-49 vote, a Democratic proposal that would reduce the deficit using a combination of targeted spending cuts and higher taxes on oil companies, corporate jet owners and hedge fund managers. Three red-state Democrats up for re-election next year joined Republicans in voting down the proposed tax increase.

Obama responded to the dual rejections by chastising congressional Republicans for opposing tax increases on the wealthiest.

"They voted to let the entire burden of deficit reduction fall squarely on the middle class," Obama said in a statement. "Middle-class families can't keep paying the price for dysfunction in Washington."

sferrechio@washingtonexaminer.com

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