Dem leader: Lawmakers need ‘discipline’ of sequester to reach debt deal

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"Across the board cuts are irrational, because you jettison portions of priorities along with portions of much lower priorities," he said. "That's not a sensible thing to do."

Instead, the Maryland Democrat said he's "hopeful" congressional leaders can hash out a bipartisan agreement next year to nullify the automatic cuts with a much larger — but more targeted — deficit spending package.

"You need to have bipartisan agreement and buy-in on a big deal," he said.

Last week, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) delivered a similar message. 

"It is my hope we can act in a bipartisan way to find a way to implement cuts that can replace the across-the-board cuts that will do what I believe is irreparable damage to the Defense Department and our ability to defend this country,” Cantor said. “Not to avoid the cuts, but to make sure the cuts are there, but not allow them to eviscerate our ability to defend this country.”

A number of Republican leaders — particularly those on the House and Senate Armed Services committees — have vowed to block the military cuts, echoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's warning that they would cripple the Pentagon's ability to protect the country.

Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) has also promoted the notion of tinkering with the sequester, saying he'd be open to rolling back the automatic cuts in return for extending the payroll tax holiday — a key part of the Democrats' jobs agenda.

President Obama, however, has warned Congress that he'll veto any legislation blocking the automatic cuts.

Hoyer on Tuesday backed the president's threat, predicting that Congress could rally the votes to uphold such a veto.

"I have not been, nor has leadership been, working on a way to get around the sequester," Hoyer said. "We will, I think, sustain a presidential veto of legislation which tries to put aside the sequester."

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