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Obama restarts negotiations with GOP on $85B sequestration cuts

| Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013, 8:27 p.m.

WASHINGTON — After weeks without talks on the budget crisis, President Obama called Republican leaders on Thursday to discuss the harsh “sequestration” cuts to government spending due to begin at the end of next week.

In what might be just the start of long negotiations to prevent the $85 billion in cuts, Obama spoke to House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The conversations were “good,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said, but he declined to provide details.

A McConnell spokesman said it was the first outreach from Obama since the New Year's Eve “fiscal cliff” deal.

Unlike that impasse, which produced drama in Congress and stormy meetings in the White House, both sides have refrained from engaging in high-profile negotiations on how to avoid the government cuts, which few in Washington favor.

The reductions are set to begin on March 1, but their immediate effects are unlikely to be severe because they will be phased in gradually over seven months.

That lag could give politicians at least a few weeks to reach a solution before another budget trigger date — a deadline for funding the government — comes up at the end of March.

Republicans want to replace the across-the-board sequester cuts with more-targeted spending reductions.

But congressional Democrats have put forward a $110 billion plan that includes spending cuts and tax increases opposed by Republicans.

Obama has expressed doubt a deal can be struck by March 1.

In what looks like a coordinated campaign to win public support for a broader deficit-reduction package that includes more tax revenue, the White House and government agencies have warned in recent days the cuts could cause severe damage, curbing economic growth, leading to 750,000 lost jobs and decimating public services such as law enforcement and air traffic control.

But officials seemed to tone down some of those warnings as Obama made contact with Republicans.

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