Obama summons congressional leaders to White House

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WASHINGTON – President Obama plans to convene a meeting with the top leaders in Congress on Friday at the White House, congressional aides confirmed.

The president’s confab with House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) will come on the day the indiscriminate across-the-board budget cuts, known as the sequester, are set to begin slicing $85 billion in federal spending by the end of September.

Republicans on Capitol Hill immediately questioned whether the administration was “serious” about stopping the automatic budget cuts or whether the meeting was a “farce.”

“If the president is serious about stopping the sequester, why did he schedule a meeting on Tuesday for Friday when the sequester hits at midnight on Thursday?” asked a Republican congressional aide who was not authorized to talk about the private meeting. “Either someone needs to buy the White House a calendar, or this is just a belated farce. They ought to at least pretend to try.”

Both sides have indicated an interest in stopping the cuts, but no progress has been made to do that.

Republicans are in a particular bind, because many conservative lawmakers would prefer to see the cuts take place to trim the deficit, despite warnings they could pose a serious drag on the economy. Some 750,000 jobs could be lost, and many government services disrupted.

Talks to avert the cuts have been all but non-existent between leaders and the White House. Mostly lawmakers are now focused on ways to rearrange the way the cuts will fall across defense and domestic accounts. The White House and Congress face another fiscal pressure point that could spur negotiations: a deadline on March 27 to adopt legislation to keep the government running. Without an agreement on funding levels, the government would face a full-scale shutdown.

Obama has largely spent his time on bringing his case for a more “balanced” approach of curbing deficits to the public. In campaign-style appearances, he is proposing both cuts and new tax revenue, which polls show has more support than the GOP’s cuts-only approach.

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