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Dreaded sequester looming, Congress demands White House identify cuts

In a rare, nearly unanimous vote, the House and Senate called on the Obama administration to itemize within 30 days what, exactly, the $109 billion in mandated spending cuts will affect Jan. 1.

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“[I]f we can’t get a good deal – a balanced deal that calls on the wealthy to pay their fair share – then I will absolutely continue this debate into 2013, rather than lock in a long-term deal this year that throws middle-class families under the bus,” Senator Murray said.

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While many on Capitol Hill have largely ignored the cuts to non-defense discretionary spending, Sen. Tom Harkin (D) of Iowa released a report Wednesday putting the cuts to that forgotten half of the ledger in stark terms.

Senator Harkin’s report argues that 46,000 Americans in the education field would lose their jobs if the full sequestration were to go into effect alongside 1.6 million who would lose job training and employment services. Healthcare screenings for various diseases would plummet.

“A laid-off teacher is just as unemployed as a laid-off defense contractor,” said Harkin.  
 
What have the parties done thus far to avoid the sequester?
 
Republicans in the House, in fact, passed a spending reduction bill that would cancel the sequester in May. That bill, championed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin, would have done away with the sequester by lowering overall government spending, leaving in place planned cuts to Medicare providers and added additional cuts to healthcare while increasing federal pension contributions.

"House Republicans remain committed to the full spending reduction required by the Budget Control Act, but we have a plan to replace the arbitrary cuts to our defenses with responsible spending cuts and reforms,” said Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R) of Texas, the House’s X-ranking member of the GOP leadership, in a statement. “The president and Senate Democrats do not.”

Democrats offered a plan during the initial negotiations over avoiding the sequester that paired $1 trillion in spending cuts with $1 trillion in higher tax revenues but have not made any concentrated overtures toward ending sequestration since.

While the legislation passed Wednesday in the Senate will force the sequestration issue into concrete terms, it cannot move Congress to do what it is has been unable to achieve thus far: find common ground.

“Sequestration,” said Senator Murray in a statement after the Senate passed the sequestration transparency bill, “is not going to simply disappear because both sides want to avoid it.”

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