By Mike Lillis - 02/20/13 08:52 PM EST
House Democrats on Wednesday amplified their calls for Congress to return to Washington and work to prevent across-the-board sequester cuts poised to hit in nine days.
They're hoping the lull of this week's congressional recess will attract attention to the Republicans' stated willingness to allow the sequester to take effect on March 1 rather than submit to new tax revenues, as the Democrats are demanding.
"Speaker [John] Boehner should call the Congress back into session [and] we should act to prevent this self-inflicted loss of three-quarters of a million jobs," Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.) said in a phone call with reporters.
"Being on recess during this period is absolutely absurd," echoed Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.).
The Democrats repeatedly blamed House Republicans for leaving town, but did not mention that Senate Democratic leaders have also kept to this week's scheduled recess.
House Democratic leaders argued last week that the onus is on Boehner and GOP leaders to act first because, constitutionally, any proposal that raises revenues must originate in the House.
"I’m sure that we can get [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid [to] come back if Speaker Boehner will join with us in supporting the plan the House and Senate Democrats and the president of the United States support to avoid the sequester," Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said on Thursday.
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Republicans, however, are opposed to any new revenues as part of the sequester fix, and they've repeatedly called on Obama and Senate Democrats to come up with a plan that can pass both chambers.
"Despite dire warnings from his own secretary of Defense for more than a year that the sequester would ‘hollow out’ our military, the president has yet to put forward a specific plan that can pass his Democratic-controlled Senate, and has exerted no pressure on the Democratic leadership of the Senate to actually pass legislation to replace the sequester he proposed," Boehner said Wednesday in a statement.
The impasse could have a stifling effect on the economy. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has warned that allowing the blunt cuts to take hold would kill an estimated 750,000 jobs between March and January. And on Wednesday, the Pentagon raised those stakes, informing Congress that it will furlough its roughly 800,000 civilian employees if sequestration goes into effect March 1.
“We are doing everything possible to limit the worst effects on DOD personnel — but I regret that our flexibility within the law is extremely limited,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta wrote in a message to the department.
Created as part of the 2011 debt-ceiling deal, the sequester consists more than $1 trillion in automatic cuts split between defense and discretionary domestic spending over the next decade.
The sequester was designed to be so unpopular that it would motivate the fiscal supercommittee – a 12-member bipartisan panel created by the same law – to reach agreement on an alternative deficit reduction plan. The supercommittee failed in that effort, however, and $85 billion in cuts are scheduled for the remainder of this calendar year.
The looming deadline has ignited yet another partisan blame game. Republicans accuse Obama and the Democrats of devising the sequester device, while Democrats counter that it was Republicans who refused to back a clean debt-ceiling hike to begin with, making the sequester necessary to prevent a government default.
"When the American people hear this is something that President Obama wanted to do, they ought to know that's not true, period," Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the Democratic whip, said last week. "This is a Republican policy."
To keep the issue fresh, House Democrats have scheduled a Thursday hearing of their Steering and Policy Committee, which will examine the effects of the sequester cuts on both the public and private sectors.
Appearing before the panel will be the head of the Aerospace Industries Association and the secretary of Washington State's Department of Health, among others.