Countdown To Cuts
PHOTO: House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio takes questions from employees after a tour of Vinylmax LLC, Feb. 11, 2013, in Hamilton, Ohio.

Al Behrman/AP Photo

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )


  • THE SEQUESTER GOES LOCAL: Just days remain for Congress to agree to a deficit-reduction deal that would avoid triggering the $85 billion package of automatic cuts that would be split among the federal government over seven months, half from the Defense Department. ABC's Matthew Larotonda reports that tables released by the White House yesterday indicate each state would receive penalties to mostly similar programs, including meal assistance for seniors and law enforcement grants. But the release is tailored to outline the individual impact to each state in the union. In a sample from military-heavy Virginia, "90,000 civilian Department of Defense employees would be furloughed, reducing gross pay by around $648.4 million in total." The document also says maintenance on 11 Navy vessels serviced in Old Dominion would be cancelled under the cuts. Three-hundred disadvantaged children in Colorado could lose access to child care. Meanwhile in Louisiana, "1,730 fewer children will receive vaccines for diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, whooping cough, influenza, and Hepatitis B due to reduced funding for vaccinations of about $118,000," it reads.
  • FROM THE SPEAKER'S OFFICE: Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner frames the sequester countdown: "Republicans in the House have voted - twice - to replace President Obama's sequester with smarter spending cuts. The White House needs to spend less time explaining to the press how bad the sequester will be and more time actually working to stop it."
  • ON THE AGENDA: This morning President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden deliver remarks to the National Governors Association at the White House. ABC's Mary Bruce reports that Obama's meeting with the governors comes as the White House is warning of the state-by-state impact of the sequester in its latest attempt to urge lawmakers to compromise on a deal to avert the looming cuts. Meanwhile, ABC's John Parkinson notes that after a nine-day recess, lawmakers return to the Capitol today with just five days remaining until sequestration kicks in.
  • ABC NEWS WELCOMES JEFF ZELENY: From ABC News President Ben Sherwood: "I am pleased to announce that Jeff Zeleny is coming to ABC News as our Senior Washington Correspondent covering Congress and politics. … Over the past 12 years Jeff has traveled to all 50 states and reported from more than two-dozen countries while covering four Presidential campaigns including Barack Obama's road to the White House, the Tea Party movement, Capitol Hill and the inside game of politics. … A Nebraska native, Jeff is one of the country's premier political journalists. … Jeff will bring his many talents to all our broadcasts and platforms. No stranger to the Sunday morning shows, he will contribute regularly to our 'This Week' roundtable."


ABC's RICK KLEIN: For the sequester to have done its intended job - that being to never happen at all - both sides needed to hate it roughly equally. The perfect formula seemed to be to pair domestic spending cuts with defense cuts, a sacred cow for a sacred cow. But Republican religion has changed. As The New York Times' Jonathan Weisman and Ashley Parker rightly point out, in today's GOP, fiscal discipline trumps all, even defense spending. The sequester was never going to self-destruct - it had to be destroyed. That would have taken … cooperation. You can read their story here:

ABC's MICHAEL FALCONE: It's not over yet. The 2012 presidential campaign, that it. At least not if you ask former top Mitt Romney strategist, Stuart Stevens, who penned an Op-Ed in the Washington Post today. "There seems to be a desire to blame Republicans' electoral difficulties and the Romney campaign's loss on technological failings. I wish this were the problem, because it would be relatively easy to fix. But it's not." Stevens goes onto argue that it was a generation and message gap that ailed the GOP last year and ultimately lost Romney the election. The Democrats' superior technology was only part of it. Stevens has been re-litigating the campaign in Op-Eds like today's as well as interviews, like his recent conversation with ABC's Jonathan Karl on "This Week." But we're about to get a chance to hear from Romney, himself, about what went wrong in 2012 and what the Republican Party needs to get right going forward: First, with an appearance on "Fox News Sunday" next weekend (the former Republican presidential hopeful's first major interview since the election) and then the week after, with a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington, DC. You can read Stevens' Op-Ed here:


DEMOCRATS USE REPUBLICANS' SEQUESTER WORDS AGAINST THEM. The American Bridge 21st Century Foundation, an arm of the Democratic super PAC American Bridge 21st Century, is releasing its first non-campaign video today and it's focused on the fight over the sequester on Capitol Hill. The two-minute spot amounts to a response to the Republican Party's "blame Obama for the sequester" talking points. According to a strategist for the group, "We're reminding the world that the only reason it exists is because the GOP held the debt ceiling hostage - and the sequester was what it took to get them to raise it." The video includes footage of top Republicans lauding the deal and calling it a win for the GOP (cameos by House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. John Cornyn, Rep. Paul Ryan, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Reps. Dave Camp and Jeb Hensarling). WATCH:


ANALYSIS: OBAMA FACES 'CLIFF FATIGUE' IN LATEST BUDGET FIGHT. Call it cliff fatigue. After a series of dramatic confrontations with congressional Republicans, an American electorate that has little trust in Washington - and that's seeing a soaring stock market, plus a recovering housing market - looks to be tuning out the latest round of fiscal fighting, at least for now, writes ABC's Rick Klein. That's troublesome news for Obama, and not just for the recurring fights over spending and deficits. As his second-term agenda gets cranking with Congress' return this week, the president needs to convince the public not just on the merits of his priorities but also on the urgency. This may be the only time in his presidency where heavy legislative lifts are realistic. That period is starting with a rough stretch: The spending cuts Obama once guaranteed would never take place now almost definitely will. The fight is displaying Washington at its worst - all accusations and finger-pointing, no real attempts at problem-solving. Both sides have plans, but the president is spending far more energy explaining why the sequester is the Republicans' fault, and how bad the consequences of those cuts will be, than he is trying to negotiate something that would stop it.

WILL ASHLEY JUDD CHALLENGE MITCH MCCONNELL? The beautiful movie star tries to take on Washington by defeating a powerful Republican leader. It's not a plot line, it's reality: The actress Ashley Judd is making moves to take on GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, reports ABC's Shushannah Walshe. She hasn't announced yet, but her biggest supporter in Kentucky, Democratic Rep. John Yarmuth, told ABC News, "I would be surprised if she doesn't run at this point." Yarmuth, the only Kentucky Democrat in Congress, said he expects the decision to come soon. The race will be one of the most watched in the country, with outside money pouring into the state. Yarmuth said: "It would be a great economic stimulus. It would be Christmas for six months or more," especially for local television stations that would run political commercials. One thing that's guaranteed is it will be a brutal race - a 30-year veteran of Washington against a Hollywood star active in liberal Democratic politics from a legendary family. Judd's mother is the country singer Naomi Judd and her half-sister is the singer Wynonna Judd. Yarmuth says Judd is ready and has even done opposition research on herself to see areas McConnell will try to "exploit."

REP. ELIOT ENGEL: THE SEQUESTER IS 'STUPID.' Speaking Sunday morning on "This Week," Rep. Eliot Engel, D-NY, called the automatic spending cuts - also known as the "sequester" - that are scheduled to go into effect on March 1 a "stupid thing." "I think the sequester was a stupid thing. I voted against it when it first time came up. Congress keeps kicking the can down the road. It's really a ridiculous thing to do. The fact is that we need to do things that are smart, not take a meat cleaver and just hack cuts," Engel said. "I think Congress should sit down and avoid the sequester. And if the sequester kicks in, for a week or two, we should then fix it so it doesn't become a permanent thing." Engel, ranking member on the Foreign Affairs Committee, was joined on the "This Week" roundtable by House Intelligence Committee Chair Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., who warned that sequestration would affect national security.

HOUSE INTEL CHAIR CALLS CHINESE CYBER ATTACKS 'UNPRECEDENTED.' House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said it was "beyond a shadow of a doubt" that the Chinese government and military is behind growing cyber attacks against the United States, saying "we are losing" the war to prevent the attacks. "They use their military and intelligence structure to steal intellectual property from American businesses, and European businesses, and Asian businesses, re-purpose it and then compete in the international market against the United States," Rogers said Sunday morning on "This Week." "It is unprecedented," Rogers added. "This has never happened in the history of the world, where one nation steals the intellectual property to re-purpose it - to illegally compete against the country…and I'll tell you, It is as bad as I've ever seen it and exponentially getting worse. Why? There's no consequence for it."

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: WHEN OUT IN THE FIELD, 'I ALWAYS FEAR FOR MY SAFETY.' ABC News' Global Affairs Anchor Christiane Amanpour said when she's out in the field, "I always fear for my safety… all our colleagues do." Before joining the "This Week" foreign policy roundtable this Sunday, Amanpour sat down for a behind-the-scenes web exclusive interview with ABC's Kaye Foley answering viewer questions from Facebook and Twitter on her career and experiences in the Middle East. "Now that doesn't mean to say that I don't go. We do go… Employing that sixth sense that with experience comes, you sort of know when to hold them and when to fold them. You know sort of when to put your foot forward and when to draw back a little bit. You're not out there gung-ho and… out there sort of being a cowboy," Amanpour said. "But you are out there because it is vital to be there to tell the stories. No matter how dangerous it is out there, you cannot just sit back at home as opinion-mongers, armchair warriors, as I like to call people who… think that they can tell you what's going on overseas from sitting back here in New York or Washington or wherever it is in the United States."


" PRIEBUS TRAVELING WEST TO MEET WITH MINORITIES AND TECH EXPERTS," by Roll Call's David M. Drucker. "Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus will head west this week to hear from minority voters and technology experts as a part of his committee's efforts to rebuild and modernize the GOP. Priebus' four-day swing is scheduled to take him to Denver on Monday for a listening session with Hispanic voters and GOP activists, then to Los Angeles on Tuesday for listening sessions with Hispanic and Asian voters. On Wednesday, Priebus will be in San Francisco for meetings with technology experts; a visit to Facebook is included on the chairman's itinerary. Priebus will then travel to Seattle for a meeting focused on early voting, an aspect of voter turnout where Republicans continue to trail the Democrats significantly. Priebus' trip is part of the Growth and Opportunity Project, the RNC's autopsy of what went wrong in the 2012 presidential election and how the GOP can improve its prospects going forward."


@jimacostacnn: Fmr Romney strategist Stuart Stevens still litigating what happened last November:

@ RyanLizza: THE HOUSE OF PAIN Can Eric Cantor, the Republican Majority Leader, redeem his party and himself? …

@SalenaZitoTrib: If you look at a diagram of our electoral history you would see that nothing is permanent in American politics. -> …

@jmartpolitico: From the NGA, how The Hillary Factor could keep a generation of ambitious Dem guvs waiting > …

@JohnJHarwood: If Medicare spending's already dropped by more than Simpson-Bowles proposed, will Dems still negotiate? My NYT story:

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