Skip to main content

Congress passive as spending cuts near

By Alan SiIverleib and Ted Barrett, CNN
updated 9:24 AM EST, Wed February 20, 2013
  • Congress is unlikely to act before automatic spending cuts kick in March 1
  • The cuts will be phased in over time and can be changed later on
  • Democrats and Republicans are blaming each other instead of working on alternatives

Washington (CNN) -- If you're expecting last minute action from Congress to avoid the March 1 spending cut deadline, think again.

Congress isn't even in session this week, and lawmakers and aides from both parties say they don't expect anything to pass anytime soon.

Why the lack of urgency?

John King explains: The sequester
What sequestration cuts would look like
Barrasso: Sequester cuts will go through
Bracing for big spending cuts

The cuts can be phased in over time, and leaders on both sides of the aisle know they can act after March 1 to undo any reductions in the months to come. Also, some Democrats and Republicans aren't totally unhappy with many of the cuts, $85 billion of which will be split between Pentagon and non-defense programs this year.

Many of the most popular domestic programs, including Medicare and Medicaid benefits, are off the table.

Obama, GOP clash on forced spending cuts

With no sharp, irreversible deadline in the offing, all you're likely to get over the next 10 days is an extended version of the partisan blame game. True to form, President Barack Obama and GOP leaders ratcheted up their rhetoric on Tuesday.

"Republicans in Congress face a simple choice," Obama said at a White House event with first responders. "Are they willing to compromise, to protect vital investments in education and healthcare and national security and all the jobs that depend on them? Or would they rather put hundreds of thousands of jobs and our entire economy at risk just to protect a few special interest tax loopholes that benefit only the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations?"

Obama more emotional on spending cuts

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, urged Republicans to "listen to the overwhelming majority of Americans and work with Democrats to forge a balanced approach" to deficit reduction that includes new tax hikes on the wealthy.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, responded to barbs from Democrats with a written statement placing the blame squarely on the president.

Blind budget cuts, explained

"The House has twice passed legislation to replace it with commonsense cuts and reforms that won't threaten public safety, national security, or our economy," the speaker said, referring to measures passed by the GOP-controlled chamber last year.

"But once again, the president (has) offered no credible plan that can pass Congress -- only more calls for higher taxes," Boehner said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said Obama "prefers campaign events to common sense, bipartisan action."

By the Numbers: Automatic spending cuts

Republicans argue they've already ceded on higher taxes by allowing Bush-era tax cuts to expire on the wealthiest Americans as part of the New Year's Eve "fiscal cliff" deal.

GOP leaders insist that any package replacing this year's planned $85 billion in cuts -- part of $1.2 trillion in savings over 10 years -- must be comprised entirely of alternative spending reductions, including entitlement reform.

Republicans are particularly concerned about the looming defense cuts.

"Even though defense accounts for 17 (or) 18% of our spending, they've taken half of the savings out of the military," House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-California, told CNN. "The troops that are over there fighting to protect our freedoms around the world are being cut. The things that they need are being cut."

Senate Democrats and Republicans are expected to propose alternative bills next week to replace the automatic cuts.

Neither plan is likely to get the 60 votes necessary for approval in the 100-member chamber -- thereby setting the stage for more serious talks after March 1.

The real impact of automatic spending cuts

"There won't be any easy off-ramps on this one," McConnell said last week. "The days of 11th hour negotiations are over."

Brown University political scientist Wendy Schiller, who studies presidential and congressional politics, noted that March 27 -- the date when the current government funding authority expires -- is an ideal point for Congress to alter its current spending plans.

"The upside to the (current package of planned cuts) is that it gives both parties political cover to make a dent in federal spending," Schiller told CNN. "The downside is that the cuts themselves are not directly targeted at inefficiency, fraud or waste, and will ultimately affect voters' daily lives in some way."

Ultimately, she predicted, Congress will be "the big loser. ... If history tells us anything about showdowns between Congress and the president, it tells us the president wins. And only one branch will face the voters again -- Congress."

Borger: Obama can't kick his legacy down the road

Part of complete coverage on
Forced Budget Cuts
Share your story, along with a photo of yourself.
United States Marines are being told to preserve ammunition and gasoline as a deal softening the impact of automatic spending cuts continues to elude leaders in Washington.
Our interactive table tracks major areas of the federal government where an impact has been projected and what has actually happened.
CNN's Tom Foreman answered questions about how forced budget cuts will impact you.
For the most part, the ramifications would kick in over months, not several days or weeks.
The political bickering over the automatic spending cuts has done little but cloud the public's understanding of what's going on and why. So we'll try to set the record straight on at least a few oft-repeated misconceptions.
We've had enough of the Beltway's wacky terms. Using fancy-pants words to dramatize and complicate otherwise simple concepts is becoming a habit of lawmakers.
updated 9:28 AM EST, Tue February 19, 2013
Here we go: A new round of confrontation between the White House and Congress over the federal budget is in the offing, this time in a new attempt to avert the looming "sequestration" process.
updated 1:24 PM EST, Thu February 21, 2013
Most Americans will feel the impact of forced budget cuts when their lives intersect with government -- trying to get through airport security to make a flight, visiting a national park, or using federal programs or assistance.
updated 2:16 PM EST, Wed February 27, 2013
Forced budget cuts aren't the only fiscal headache facing Congress. On March 27, the so-called continuing resolution that funds federal programs runs out and the government could shut down.
updated 7:10 AM EST, Mon February 25, 2013
Dan Malloy, Haley Barbour, Gwen Ifill, and Jackie Calmes consider who will take the blame if budget cuts go forward.
updated 9:46 PM EST, Fri March 1, 2013
Two days after a Federal Aviation Administration official told contractors that steps were being taken to shut down 168 air traffic control towers on April 1, the agency gave the towers an unexpected reprieve Friday, saying the official's comments were "unauthorized."
updated 9:29 AM EST, Tue February 19, 2013
From military training to educational grants to border patrols to hurricane relief, federal agencies face $85 billion in automatic, government-wide spending cuts this year.
The sequester would touch many, many government programs and services. These 57 are a somewhat random sampling of what could happen.
How much will be cut? What would be affected? How quickly will the cuts hit? CNN Money answers these questions and more.