Sequester Countdown Clock Keeps Ticking

Automatic spending cuts are scheduled to take effect Friday. Over time, the across-the-board spending cuts could slow economic growth and lead to hundreds of thousands of government employees going out on furlough.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne. Good morning.

The sequester countdown calendar now has the number one on it. Tomorrow is the big day. Over time, the automatic across the board spending cuts could slow economic growth and lead to the furlough of hundreds of thousands of government employees. And we're going hear more about that in a moment.

NPR congressional correspondent Tamara Keith begins our coverage with the efforts to stop that from happening.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Spoiler alert.

REPRESENTATIVE BUCK MCKEON: Oh, it's going to happen.

KEITH: That's Buck McKeon, a California Republican and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and he's none too happy. He was walking out of a closed-door meeting of House Republicans, where they weren't talking about how to avoid the sequester. They were looking ahead to the next fiscal fight, keeping the government funded for the rest of the year.

Bill Young is a Republican from Florida.

REPRESENTATIVE BILL YOUNG: The way this plan will work, it actually assumes that the sequester is going to happen. It's compatible.

KEITH: Looking for more signs? The president invited the top four congressional leaders over to the White House on Friday. It's the day the automatic spending cuts are set to begin.

Jay Carney is the White House press secretary.

JAY CARNEY: We remain hopeful that at some point, hopefully soon, Republicans will understand the need to compromise here and that compromise has balance at its essence.

KEITH: What he means by balance is a mix of smarter spending cuts and new revenues from closing tax loopholes.

About that revenue thing, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says his constituents are telling him to stand firm.

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: Replacing spending cuts that both parties already agreed to and to which the president already signed into law with tax hikes is simply unacceptable.

KEITH: Today the Senate is expected to bring up rival Democratic and Republican sequester replacement plans. Neither is expected to pass.

Tamara Keith, NPR News.

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