Fresh off a golfing trip aboard Air Force One to Florida, President Obama seized the bully pulpit Tuesday to shame Congress into action to avert the looming sequester spending cuts poised to take effect at the end of the month.
"They haven't come together and done their jobs, and so as a consequence, we've got these automatic, brutal spending cuts that are poised to happen next Friday," Obama said. "I am willing to work with anybody to get this job done."
Twenty-four hours later, what is happening as a result? Not much.
House Speaker John Boehner "is on the road this week for his House Republican team," according to an aide, even raising money off the sequester stalemate plaguing Congress. The aide said "for the past few days" Boehner has been in Florida "contrasting Democrats' failure to address our government's spending problem with Republican efforts to replace the president's sequester, cut spending, and put the nation on a path to balance the budget within 10 years."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is fundraising in Florida and Texas this week, an aide says, and participating in a women's forum today with Rep. Lois Frankel in Palm Beach County. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are not at the Capitol today either.
With lawmakers on legislative recess in their congressional districts, the sequester hangs over Washington like an ominous cloud, almost certain to wash away $85 billion in spending on March 1 - the first wave in a 10-year plan to cut $1.2 trillion in defense and domestic spending.
The $85 billion sequester that strikes next week represents a 2.2 percent reduction in federal spending this year, which is projected to total $3.8 trillion this fiscal year.
Today, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned that the Pentagon is poised to furlough 800,000 civilian employees if sequestration takes place on March 1, saving almost $5 billion.
"If sequestration is not avoided, the magnitude of the potential reductions will damage force readiness, slow major acquisition programs, and necessitate civilian furlough actions that will negatively affect our Federal civilian workforce," Panetta warned. "Sequestration will put us on a path toward a hallow force and inflict serious damage on our national security."
Boehner and Congressional Republicans continue to stress that Senate Democrats must first pass a bill in the upper chamber to establish a negotiating point against the GOP's proposal to offset sequestration, which passed in the last Congress.
"Despite dire warnings from his own Secretary of Defense for more than a year that the sequester would 'hollow out' our military, the president has yet to put forward a specific plan that can pass his Democratic-controlled Senate, and has exerted no pressure on the Democratic leadership of the Senate to actually pass legislation to replace the sequester he proposed," Boehner, R-Ohio, wrote in a statement reacting to Panetta's letter today. "As the commander-in-chief, President Obama is ultimately responsible for our military readiness, so it's fair to ask: what is he doing to stop his sequester that would 'hollow out' our Armed Forces?"
An aide to the speaker ruled out any one-on-one negotiations between Boehner and President Obama unless Senate Democrats first pass legislation to establish their baseline for discussions. Only then will Republicans considering further action, the aide maintained, although the source said Boehner would welcome a phone call from the president.
Earlier today, a group of House Democrats held a conference call with reporters urging Boehner to call the House of Representatives back in session. The House of Representatives meets next for legislative business on Feb. 25, beginning a four-day workweek that ends when sequestration takes hold March 1.
Even though Congress is not in session this week, the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee will hold a hearing at the Capitol tomorrow to examine the "impact of sequestration on the American economy, middle class families, and small businesses." Pelosi, D-Calif., is not expected to attend the event.