No signs of progress in resolving sequester

David A. Fahrenthold and Sean Sullivan / The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Four days from the onset of the so-called “sequester,” a series of wide-ranging across-the-board budget cuts, politicians from both parties spent Monday talking about how ill-advised it would be to allow the cuts to proceed.

But they appeared to be making little — or no — progress toward preventing them.

At the White House, President Barack Obama told a gathering of the nation’s governors that “Congress is poised to allow a series of arbitrary, automatic budget cuts to kick in that will slow our economy, eliminate good jobs and leave a lot of folks who are already pretty thinly stretched scrambling to figure out what to do.”

Obama urged the governors to lobby their states’ Congressional delegations, telling them, “These cuts do not have to happen. Congress can turn them off anytime with just a little bit of compromise.”

On the Republican side, a trio of governors on Monday argued that Obama was trying to frighten the public about the impact of the cuts, and urged him to continue pursuing alternate spending reductions as they criticized his call for new tax revenue.

“I think he’s trying to scare the American people,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal told reporters at a Republican Governors Association news conference following a meeting with Obama at the White House.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, vice chairman of the RGA, and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley appeared alongside Jindal and echoed his criticism of the president.

“My kids could find 83 billion dollars” to cut “from a four-trillion-dollar budget,” Haley said.

The deep cuts, split evenly between defense and domestic spending, are set to begin Friday unless lawmakers act to avert them. Democrats are advocating a mix of new tax revenues and alternate spending reductions as a means of avoiding the sequester. Republicans are opposed to any tax increases.

Obama has an “insatiable appetite for new revenues,” Jindal, the chairman of the RGA, said.

The sequester involves about $85 billion in cuts, roughly split between military and nonmilitary domestic programs. It was imposed in the 2011 deal that ended the debt-ceiling crisis. The cuts were meant as a scare tactic, not as a real-world policy: They were so deep and so painful, it was believed, that the two parties would be forced to replace them with something else.

That didn’t happen.

On Monday, the Obama administration continued its effort to detail the harmful consequences of the cuts. Over the weekend, it released a state-by-state breakdown of the projected impact. On Monday, it released an agency-by-agency breakdown.

The House and Senate are expected to vote this week on legislation that would stop the sequester in its current form. But if that sounds like progress toward a compromise, it probably isn’t. The bills are largely symbolic — neither Democrats nor Republicans expect the measures to get enough support to pass Congress.