Sequester squeeze

With less than a month to go before the sequester ax falls, President Obama and Republicans are pointing fingers at each other.

Obama on Tuesday called on Congress to move legislation that would replace at least some of the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts set to go into effect on March 1.

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House Republicans countered that they have already passed legislation on two occasions during the last Congress that would avert the sequester. GOP officials told The Hill they have no plans to schedule another vote this month. Discretion may be the better part of valor in this case, however — Republicans could have a tough time passing such a bill due to defections from their election-depleted majority.

House Democrats, meanwhile, point to Rep. Chris Van Hollen’s (D-Md.) bill that would stave off automatic cuts to defense and domestic spending, although Obama never officially endorsed that legislation.

On the other side of the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is insisting on new revenues to tackle sequestration.

There are some liberal lawmakers displeased by the social spending cuts in the sequester, but they strongly back defense cuts.

The bottom line is, as usual, that Republicans and Democrats disagree about what to do, and neither side has a unified message.

The most likely outcome is mutual recrimination throughout the month of February. Some lawmakers will cite last week’s disappointing gross domestic product figures as a reason not to cut government outlays. Others will claim the nation must avoid sinking further into the fiscal mire by making cuts, starting with the sequester.

Obama probably will not sign legislation on this issue before March 1.

That could put the White House on the defensive. During a debate with Mitt Romney last year, the president said the sequester cuts “are not going to happen.”

He has difficult decisions to make on spending in his last term in office, for the fiscal outlook is grim. On Tuesday, the Congressional Budget Office projected a federal deficit of $845 billion in 2013. That’s the first time it will have fallen below $1 trillion in the Obama administration, but don’t break out the bubbly — by 2023, the aging population, coupled with rising healthcare costs, will push the nation back to the $1 trillion mark, CBO projects.

Policymakers in Washington have repeatedly failed to live up to the prescriptions of the 1997 Balanced Budget Act.

Until they grasp the nettle of entitlements, the nation’s debt will grow and grow as a national problem until it crowds out most others.