McConnell: Sequester will happen

McConnell: Sequester will happen

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden stiff arms progressives on the Postal Service Biden clarifies any Russian movement into Ukraine 'is an invasion' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden talks, Senate balks 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 BoehnerDemocrats eager to fill power vacuum after Pelosi exit Stopping the next insurrection Biden, lawmakers mourn Harry Reid 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 ReidThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Connected Commerce Council - Biden faces reporters as his agenda teeters Biden hits one-year mark in dire straits 'All or nothing' won't bolster American democracy: Reform the filibuster and Electoral Count Act 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 BoehnerDemocrats eager to fill power vacuum after Pelosi exit Stopping the next insurrection Biden, lawmakers mourn Harry Reid 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 CornynSenate panel advances bill blocking tech giants from favoring own products Senators introduce bill aimed at protecting Ukrainian civilians Lawmakers press Biden admin to send more military aid to Ukraine 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 BaucusThe good, bad, and ugly of Tester's Blackfoot-Clearwater Stewardship Act Biden nominates Nicholas Burns as ambassador to China Cryptocurrency industry lobbies Washington for 'regulatory clarity' MORE (D-Mont.), Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara MikulskiBarbara Ann MikulskiTwo women could lead a powerful Senate spending panel for first time in history Harris invites every female senator to dinner next week Will the real Lee Hamiltons and Olympia Snowes please stand up? MORE (D-Md.) and Budget Chairwoman Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayCDC leader faces precarious political moment Schumer ramps up filibuster fight ahead of Jan. 6 anniversary Biden, lawmakers mourn Harry Reid 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 StabenowMichigan Republican John James 'strongly considering' House run Updated reconciliation text includes electric vehicle tax credit opposed by Manchin Stabenow calls for expansion of school mental health services 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 Landrieu11 former Democratic senators call for 'meaningful reform to Senate rules' 10 Democrats who could run in 2024 if Biden doesn't Cassidy wins reelection in Louisiana 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 CardinSenators introduce bill aimed at protecting Ukrainian civilians Biden to huddle with Senate Democrats as voting bill on brink of defeat US budget deficit narrows sharply 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 DurbinDick DurbinManchin, Collins leading talks on overhauling election law, protecting election officials Swalwell slams House Republican for touting funding in bill she voted down Schumer opted for modest rules reform after pushback from moderates 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 CrapoAlabama GOP gears up for fierce Senate primary clash Senate Republicans call on Biden to lift vaccine mandate for truckers crossing Canadian border GOP ramps up attacks on SALT deduction provision 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.