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Parties far apart on replacing cuts

– President Obama summoned congressional leaders to a meeting at the White House on Friday, the day $85 billion in spending cuts begin, as both parties say a deal to avert them probably won’t come before the deadline.

Republicans John Boehner, the House speaker, and Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, and Democrats Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, and Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, will attend.

The timing signals that Obama probably won’t spend much effort seeking to avert the cuts before they begin. Instead, Democrats say they expect the public to blame Republicans.

The parties are far apart on how to replace the cuts totaling $1.2 trillion over nine years, with $85 billion in the remaining seven months of this fiscal year. Democrats insist tax increases must be part of a replacement plan, an approach Republican leaders oppose.

“One thing Americans simply will not accept is another tax increase to replace spending reductions we already agreed to,” McConnell said in an emailed statement. He said the meeting “is an opportunity for us to visit with the president about how we can all keep our commitment to reduce Washington spending.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the president anticipates a “constructive conversation” with congressional leaders, though he said it’s unlikely the session would avert the cuts. Obama remains unwilling to consider a proposal that doesn’t couple cuts with tax increases, Carney said.

Obama has until 11:59 p.m. Friday to issue an order officially putting the cuts into effect.

Pelosi said in a statement that Democrats will press for “a balanced, bipartisan solution to avoid the unemployment and economic uncertainty” the cuts would cause.

The White House session follows a meeting there Tuesday between Obama and Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. McCain and Graham said they discussed the spending cuts with the president, though they didn’t give details. The two senators have said they may be open to replacing the automatic reductions with a plan that includes new tax revenue and cuts in entitlements.

Senate leaders are working to schedule votes today on each party’s preferred replacement option. Neither plan is expected to advance.

The next step for Senate Democrats may be to try to gain support from a handful of Republicans for a broader, multiyear proposal that includes new revenue, Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson said.

Senate Democrats propose replacing this year’s part of the reductions with a smaller defense spending cut, a halt in direct payments to farmers, and a tax increase that would impose a minimum 30 percent rate on top earners.

The tax provision is known as the Buffett Rule, after one of its leading proponents, billionaire Warren Buffett, and would apply fully to annual income exceeding $5 million.

Senate Republicans may offer an alternative plan that would give the president flexibility to cut the required amount of spending at federal agencies. McConnell said Tuesday that Republicans are discussing alternatives and that he may seek a vote on more than one proposal.

Boehner said Tuesday the House won’t act to replace automatic federal spending cuts until the Senate “gets off their ass” and passes a plan.

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