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Why Republicans think Obama's back is against the wall on 'sequester'

President Obama has spent the past week trying to put Republicans on the defensive over the sequester. But many Republicans believe the pressure is on him.

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In one example, Rep. Pat Tiberi (R) of Ohio told reporters about how a TSA agent thanked him for holding the line on government spending even if it meant a few unpaid days off in the months to come.

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On Thursday, the Senate made two last-ditch efforts to avoid the sequester, but without much conviction. 

Democrats offered a bill to institute a minimum tax on the wealthiest Americans while reducing farm subsidies and defense spending. The 51-to-49 party-line vote fell well short of the filibuster-proof threshold. 

The GOP plan, introduced by Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, was something of a thumb in the eye to Obama. It offered to let the president direct the cuts to the lowest-value areas instead of the sequester’s across-the-board approach. Congress could have overridden the president only with a supermajority. 

If the cuts are so bad, Republicans say, why doesn’t the president want the authority to head them off?

“I’d like to give him the flexibility” to avert the worst of the sequester, says Sen. Bob Corker (R) of Tennessee. “I don’t think he wants it.”

The bill failed 38 to 62, with nine Republicans, led by defense hawk Sen. John McCain of Arizona, voting against it.

Democrats saw the bill as a desperate maneuver by the GOP.

“They've tried to unite their caucus around a measure that does not turn off the cuts but rather tries to pass the buck to the president. It's been fairly remarkable watching so many Republicans who so distrust this president suddenly willing to cede the power of the purse to him,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D) of New York, the party’s third-ranking Senate leader, in a press conference Thursday. “This shows you no matter what they say, Republicans are actually quite worried about the unpopularity of these across-the-board cuts.”

In the House, there are those like Republican Reps. Scott Rigell and Frank Wolf of Virginia who decry the coming cuts on the Defense Department and the nation’s intelligence agencies, respectively.

But with Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio putting the onus on the Senate to pass a sequester replacement, and with Senate Democrats unable to muster 60 filibuster-breaking votes for new tax revenue, congressional Republicans feel secure that the cuts they were promised as part of the debt-ceiling deal of 2011 will be the cuts they receive in the spring of 2013 – one way or another.

“This is a good thing. This is the first significant savings for the American taxpayer in a long, long – I’ve been here six years. This is the first time we’ve actually saved the American taxpayer some real money,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R) of Ohio on Wednesday. “That’s going to happen.”

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