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Sen. Durbin optimistic lawmakers can avert impending sequester cuts

Video remarks begin at 2:19

A top Senate Democrat and political ally of President Obama expressed optimism that Congress can craft a plan to avoid massive spending cuts. 

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Sunday he expects lawmakers to reach a deal after the election that would fix the agreed-on sequester which will automatically cut $109 billion from defense and discretionary spending next year and over $1 trillion the next 10 years, including $500 billion from defense. 

"With the president's leadership we can come together, there's a bipartisan answer here that will reduce the deficit and still create an environment for economic growth," Durbin said on CNN's "State of the Union."  

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Durbin said meetings have taken place in the last few weeks with the Gang of Eight — a group of four Democrats and Republicans — on a plan to move forward that would change the built-in sequester that was passed overwhelmingly last year by Congress 

"There is a responsible, reasonable way to move forward and we're going to try to put something on the table to be considered," he said. 

The sequester cuts have emerged as a presidential campaign issue and have cropped up in House and Senate races in states with a heavy military presence. 

The Senate overwhelmingly supported the spending-cuts plan a year ago after a debt-limit battle nearly led to a default on the nation's more than $15 trillion in debt. But lawmakers have expressed concerns about the impending “fiscal cliff” of automatic cuts and higher tax rates. 

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has criticized the president for being willing to slash the defense budget "to pay the tab for your irresponsible spending" while Obama has argued the GOP would rather shield the wealthy from tax hikes over protecting critical military spending. 

Durbin believes the political environment over the next 100 days won't be conducive to striking a deal and he expects any plan to avoid the sequester will be considered in a lame-duck session of Congress following the election. The cuts are slated to start Jan. 2. 

"I think we can do it," he said. 

Durbin said Republicans are blasting a sequester they voted for and was brokered by the White House and the GOP to avoid an economic shutdown. 

Although the Illinois Democrat touted 26 months of private-sector job growth, he expressed concern about Obama's chances as the nation's economy sputters. 

"The president accepts responsibility but he also believes we are on the right track," he said. 

"Returning to the economic policies of the Bush administration, which Mitt Romney endorses, would just plunge us back into a recession situation where we're giving tax breaks to the wealthiest of America, seeing a deficit out of control and not creating strength in the middle class for working families of America.

"This is going to be a very close election, we take it very seriously."