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Obama's plea to avoid sequester falls on deaf ears

| Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, 9:30 p.m.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — President Obama journeyed on Tuesday to military-rich Virginia to prod Congress to halt looming federal spending cuts, warning of the potential consequences on America's armed forces and economy.

“These cuts are wrong,” Obama said of the spending plan he signed into law in 2011, part of a deal to wrangle an increase in the nation's debt ceiling from Republicans. “They're not smart. They're not fair. They're a self-inflicted wound that doesn't have to happen.”

Obama spoke to hundreds of enthusiastic Newport News Shipbuilding employees in a cavernous building where the front sections of nuclear submarines are built. The huge tip of a submarine situated on one side of the room was adorned with an American flag.

Obama's campaign-style event did not appear to spur action on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers spent another day bickering about whether to avert the reductions just three days before they're scheduled to start taking effect.

Congress appeared to make little headway in finding an acceptable solution to the automatic spending cuts, or sequestration. Senate Republicans, who revealed an alternative plan that would give the administration flexibility in how the cuts are apportioned, were unable to rally around one proposal. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the Senate is expected to vote on a Democratic sequester alternative plan this week. But the prospects of a legislative solution that both parties can agree on appeared dim Tuesday.

“We've got matters still under discussion in our conference,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters. “We'll see how many votes we'll have. It's all yet to be determined.”

Some senators in both parties oppose the flexibility idea, saying it's either an abdication of senatorial power or gives the White House too much power over the nation's purse strings.

“I'm not prepared to give up my constitutional responsibilities, including hundreds of hours of work on the defense authorization bill,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a member of the Armed Services Committee. “I would do everything in my power to resist that.”

A frustrated House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said that the Senate should “get off their ass” and pass something to avert the sequester. Reid took umbrage over the remark, saying, “I think he (Boehner) should understand who is sitting on their posterior.

“The speaker is doing nothing to try to pass anything over there,” Reid said. “He's falling back on what they did the last Congress.”

Obama, who said he signed the bill hoping the automatic cuts would be replaced by a combination of smaller spending cuts and tax increases, again urged Congress to delay the cuts by passing a package of $930 billion in spending cuts and $580 billion in new tax revenue over 10 years. He'd raise taxes by eliminating tax loopholes that benefit certain industries or the wealthy. He said he was not asking for an income tax increase, though he did not mention that he pushed — and succeeded — in passing a series of tax increases two months ago.

“I just have to be honest with you: There are too many Republicans in Congress right now who refuse to compromise even an inch when it comes to closing tax loopholes and special interest tax breaks,” he said. “And that's what's holding things up right now.”

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