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Spending cut countdown: What's Congress doing?

By Alan Silverleib, CNN Congressional Producer
updated 10:00 PM EST, Mon February 25, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham says sequestration is inevitable
  • No votes on the forced spending cuts were held Monday
  • Democrats and Republicans, back from vacation, blame each other for the cuts
  • Senate leaders Reid and McConnell will introduce bills to avoid the cuts this week

Washington (CNN) -- Four days remain before $85 billion in widely disliked forced spending cuts start to take effect. So what did Congress -- back from a weeklong break -- do on Monday to change course?

Not much, at least publicly. There were no votes scheduled until the late afternoon.

The GOP-controlled House scheduled one floor vote on a bill to rename a NASA flight research center at Southern California's Edwards Air Force Base after Neil Armstrong, the late astronaut who was the first man to step foot on the moon. The bill is sponsored by House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-California.

Where you'll feel forced spending cuts

In the Democratic-controlled Senate, members were scheduled to vote on the nomination of a new judge for the 10th Circuit.

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That was it in terms of actual votes.

There were, however, plenty of accusations and finger-pointing all day long.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, appeared on "The Situation Room" and said there wasn't enough time to work out a deal.

"So sequestration is going to happen," he told CNN. "Hopefully, the pressure from sequestration will wake us up to the big deal. We don't need new taxes to run the government, we need new taxes to get out of debt."

Three Republican House members from Virginia -- Scott Rigell, Randy Forbes and Rob Wittman -- kicked things off in the morning by highlighting what they termed a "potentially devastating impact" on the Hampton Roads region if looming defense cuts aren't stopped.

President Barack Obama is expected to stop by the area on Tuesday to put his own spin on things.

Later, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and other House GOP leaders met with reporters on Capitol Hill, stepping up their effort to blame Obama for the unpopular cuts.

"The president proposed (these cuts)," Boehner declared. "And yet he's far more interested in holding campaign rallies than he is in urging his Senate Democrats to actually pass a plan. We know there are smarter ways to cut spending and to continue to grow our economy."

Boehner dismissed Democratic calls for new taxes on the rich as part of a more "balanced" plan.

"Mr. President, you got your tax increase," he said, referring to the fiscal cliff deal which passed at the start of the new year. "It's time to cut spending here in Washington."

Taking to the House floor, South Carolina GOP Rep. Joe Wilson insisted that "it is no secret that the very proposal" for the current forced spending cuts originated in the White House.

Stressing looming defense cutbacks, Wilson said, "The best way that our country can avert this devastating policy ... is for the president to put the interest of the American people before party politics."

Ticker: White House details cuts

Responding for Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada warned that 70,000 kids would be kicked out of the Head Start program if the planned governmentwide cuts of $85 billion for the remainder of this fiscal year are set in motion.

He also said, among other things, that air traffic controllers and FBI and border patrol agents will be placed on furlough.

"Congress has the power to prevent these self-inflicted wounds," Reid said on the Senate floor. "Unfortunately, Republicans would rather let devastating cuts go into effect than close a single wasteful tax loophole. They would rather cut Medicare, education and medical research than ask a single millionaire to pay a single dollar more in taxes."

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland took to the House floor to argue that while many "Republicans have been praising the sequester as a viable path forward, Democrats recognize this mindless policy for the danger it is."

Hoyer, who tried unsuccessfully to force consideration of an alternative House Democratic plan, urged Republicans to either work with the Democrats or "abandon this reckless policy."

One development to watch closely: Reid and his Republican counterpart, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, are expected to introduce their own bills for replacing the cuts early this week. Will this just be more political posturing? Or could it be the start of something more serious, like a bipartisan effort to give Obama more flexibility in implementing the cuts?

Stay tuned.

Obama: 'These cuts do not have to happen'

CNN's Ted Barrett, Dana Bash and Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.

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