GOP standing firm on sequester

Anne Wernikoff

Rolling back the automatic budget cuts known as the "sequester" has emerged as a critical sticking point in the negotiations to reopen the government and avoid default.

Democrats don't want to lock in 2014 government funding at the reduced level required by the sequester, but Republicans refuse to increase spending and say Democrats are overplaying their hand.

“The dispute has been how to undo the sequester,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on "Face the Nation" on CBS on Sunday, explaining that Democrats want a mix of entitlement reforms and revenue increases.

But Republican lawmakers on the Sunday talk shows vowed not to budge on the sequester budget cuts. The second round of those indiscriminate cuts is scheduled for January, 2014.

"If you break the spending caps, you're not going to get any Republicans in the Senate," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) declared on "This Week" on ABC.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said undoing the sequester cuts would be "a real big step in the wrong direction."

"Now they want a spending bill that increases spending and dramatically will increase the debt," Paul said on CNN's "State of the Union." "It's a non-starter."

Nearly two weeks into a government shutdown and just days away from hitting the debt limit, the focus in Washington has shifted to talks between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Reid on Saturday nixed a proposal from a bipartisan group of senators led by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), mainly because it would have locked in reduced spending for six months. Democrats want to fund the government at $1.058 trillion, not the $988 billion required by the sequester.

McConnell issued a statement Sunday saying Democrats should reconsider the Collins proposal, which would raise the debt ceiling through January, re-open the government and delay the medical device tax (a provision of ObamaCare) for two years.

"It’s time for Democrat leaders to take ‘yes’ for an answer," McConnell said.

In a speech on the Senate floor Sunday, Reid denied that he is trying to reverse the sequester cuts.

“Any talk about breaking the caps is not anything that came from us," he said.

He noted that Senate Democrats have already backed a bill to fund the government at sequester levels through Nov. 15.

“We stand by that bill and would happily accept it or something similar as a way out of the current impasse," a Senate Democratic leadership aide said, adding that Congress could leave the debate over whether to continue the sequester into 2014 "for another time."

The sequester stemmed from the debt ceiling fight in 2011, when Democrats agreed to impose the across-the-board cuts if a bipartisan "supercommittee" couldn't reach a deficit reduction deal. That supercommittee failed to act, and the sequester went into effect earlier this year, slashing defense and domestic spending.

Democrats argue that they shouldn't have to accept the sequester as the new baseline spending level for the federal government.

They warn that the sequester is a blunt tool for reducing the deficit and is harming important federal programs. While some Republicans also worry about the consequences of the cuts, especially to national defense, other Republicans see them as the only way to limit federal spending.

“We aren’t going to break the sequester caps," Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said on "Fox News Sunday." "We think that’s one thing where we’ve saved the American people some money here.”

Republicans say Democrats have gotten greedy with polls showing the public mostly blames the GOP for the shutdown.

On "Fox News Sunday," Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) admitted that Republicans overreached when they tried to defund ObamaCare with the government spending bill. But he said that Democrats are now on the verge of being "one tick too cute" by trying to increase spending beyond the sequester levels.

"As they see the House possibly in disarray, they now are overreaching," Corker said.

The federal government will hit its debt limit and begin defaulting on its bills as soon as Thursday, according to the Treasury Department.

--This report was originally published at 1:38 p.m. and last updated at 2:46 p.m.

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