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McConnell: Sequester will happen

McConnell: Sequester will happen

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLawmakers feel pressure on guns Bipartisan group of House lawmakers urge action on Export-Import Bank nominees Curbelo Dem rival lashes out over immigration failure MORE (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that $85 billion in automatic spending cuts will likely go into effect on March 1 despite opposition in both parties.

President Obama has demanded that at least some of the cuts be turned off, but McConnell said Democrats and Republicans were unlikely to reach a last-minute deal.

“It is pretty clear to me that the sequester is going to go into effect,” he told reporters.

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McConnell in the past has worked with Vice President Biden to broker deals between the White House and congressional Republicans, but he indicated no interest in doing so to prevent the cuts.

“Read my lips: I am not interested in an eleventh-hour negotiation,” said McConnell, who acknowledged an “eerie similarity” to previous debates.

McConnell’s comments are the biggest sign yet that the $85 billion in cuts will not be avoided. Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerRestoring fiscal sanity requires bipartisan courage GOP congressman slams primary rival for Ryan donations Speculation swirls about Kevin McCarthy’s future MORE (R-Ohio) has likened the sequester to a “meat ax,” but argued House Republicans would not eradicate the cuts unless Obama agreed to meaningful spending reductions to replace them.

Some Republicans see the sequester as the only way left to impose cuts on Washington spending.

The president and Democrats have said any replacement bill should include both spending cuts and new taxes.

Senate Democrats are trying to unveil a replacement bill by Thursday. The bill is expected to include roughly $120 billion in deficit reduction, much of which would come from imposing the so-called “Buffett Rule” on the wealthy.

The Buffett Rule, named after investor and Obama ally Warren Buffett, would implement a tax rate of at least 30 percent on taxpayers making seven figures a year, and would be phased in for those making between $1 million and $2 million a year.

“The majority is going to offer a proposal. I anticipate that we will have an alternative proposal. That, however, doesn’t lead to a solution — that just leads to a couple of votes,” McConnell said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidWATCH: There is no Trump-Russia collusion and the media should stop pushing this The demise of debate in Congress ‘North by Northwest,’ the Carter Page remake MORE (D-Nev.) said Tuesday that votes would happen the last week of February, and that he would discuss the Democratic proposal with BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerRestoring fiscal sanity requires bipartisan courage GOP congressman slams primary rival for Ryan donations Speculation swirls about Kevin McCarthy’s future MORE this week.

The majority leader stressed on Tuesday that the Democratic plan would be split evenly between spending cuts and revenue increases, and Democrats have made clear that they would use next week’s recess to sell their plan to constituents and put pressure on Republicans to back the plan.

Senate aides said Democrats see the measure as a way to blame Republicans if the spending cuts happen. Democrats would argue that Republicans refused to replace the cuts with new taxes on the wealthy.

Republicans contend it was the president’s idea to include the sequester in the 2011 deal to raise the debt ceiling, and that he has failed to provide a plan to replace the $85 billion in cuts set for March 1.

“We’re waiting for the president to tell us how he wants to avoid the sequester,” Senate Minority Whip John CornynJohn CornynLawmakers feel pressure on guns Kasich’s campaign website tones down gun language after Florida shooting Murphy: Trump’s support for background check bill shows gun politics ‘shifting rapidly’ MORE (R-Texas) said Tuesday. “Hope springs eternal.”

McConnell said “the tax issue is over” following the January deal that raised tax rates on annual household incomes above $450,000 — a hike that was not coupled with spending cuts and represented a significant concession by Republicans. He noted that the 2011 debt deal setting up the sequester included no new taxes. The automatic spending cuts were to be implemented unless a supercommittee of lawmakers came up with a replacement deal by the end of 2011.

“I think we ought to keep the commitment we made,” the Kentucky Republican argued. “If the supercommittee failed, these reductions were made without raising taxes.”

Rank-and-file Democrats expect to be briefed Thursday on the Senate Democratic sequester-replacement proposal, which Reid, Finance Chairman Max BaucusMax Sieben Baucus2020 Dems pose a big dilemma for Schumer Steady American leadership is key to success with China and Korea Orrin Hatch, ‘a tough old bird,’ got a lot done in the Senate MORE (D-Mont.), Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara MikulskiBarbara Ann MikulskiDems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee Robert Mueller's forgotten surveillance crime spree Clinton: White House slow-walking Russia sanctions MORE (D-Md.) and Budget Chairwoman Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn Murray30 million people will experience eating disorders — the CDC needs to help Mulvaney remarks on Trump budget plan spark confusion Overnight Finance: Mulvaney sparks confusion with budget remarks | Trump spars with lawmakers on tariffs | Treasury looks to kill 300 tax regs | Intel chief's warning on debt MORE (D-Wash.) are all working on.

“Democrats believe the right way to reduce the deficit is to target waste and abuse by pairing smart spending cuts with closing tax loopholes, asking the wealthiest Americans to contribute more,” Reid told reporters on Tuesday.

In addition to the Buffett Rule, Democrats are discussing a variety of ways to reach the $120 billion in deficit reduction, including cutting farm subsidies known as direct payments.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann Stabenow10 Senate Democrats are up for reelection in Trump country At least Alzheimer’s research is bringing Washington together Senate Dems block crackdown on sanctuary cities MORE (D-Mich.) told The Hill that she is talking with leaders to ensure the sequester bill does not hurt her effort to pass a five-year farm bill.

It is not clear whether Democrats can bring all of their members behind new taxes. The party faces a tough electoral landscape in 2014, and could face internal opposition to the Buffett Rule or to scrapping tax breaks used by the oil-and-gas industry.

“My position is that no industry should be singled out to be punished because they are a legal, robust industry,” Sen. Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuProject Veritas at risk of losing fundraising license in New York, AG warns You want to recall John McCain? Good luck, it will be impossible CNN producer on new O'Keefe video: Voters are 'stupid,' Trump is 'crazy' MORE (D-La.), who is up for reelection in 2014, told reporters on Tuesday. “And so while I most certainly am supportive of a review for the whole tax code of all industries, I don’t see why the oil-and-gas industry should have to be ever singled out.”

Other Democrats, including Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinWashington puts Ethiopia's human rights abusers on notice Overnight Defense: Mattis vows Dreamers in military won't be deported | Pentagon unsure if military parade will be in Washington | Dem bill would block funds for parade Dems introduce bills to block funds for Trump's proposed parade MORE (D-Md.), have said that they would prefer to craft a package to undo the full $1.2 trillion sequester that is to be implemented over 10 years.

“I’m looking for the best answer that gives us two things: deficit reduction that does not kill the recovery,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinAmerica’s waning commitment to the promise of the First Amendment Senate rejects Trump immigration plan What to watch for in the Senate immigration votes MORE (D-Ill.). “And that’s the balance we’re trying to strike. And sequester is a heavy-handed approach to dealing with deficit reduction, and has very little thought being given to its impact on the economy.”

Sen. Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoBeware of the bank deregulation Trojan horse Senate Republicans call on Trump to preserve NAFTA Dems rip Trump's Fed pick as Senate panel mulls three key nominees MORE (R-Idaho) said that conservatives wanted to keep the same amount of spending cuts, but that Republicans could be open to a measure that gives agencies more flexibility on how to implement the sequester.

“The same savings, I think, can be achieved in most budget arenas without the kind of damage to programs,” Crapo said.

Ben Geman contributed to this story.

— Published at 3:14 p.m. and updated at 8:34 p.m.