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Mitch McConnell: Sequester Will Take Effect On March 1

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MITCH MCCONNELL SEQUESTER
Senate Republican Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 12. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) | AP

WASHINGTON -- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday rejected the idea of a last-minute deal to avert the looming sequester, signaling that massive cuts to defense and domestic spending will kick in as expected on March 1.

"It's pretty clear to me that the sequester is going to go into effect," McConnell told reporters on Capitol Hill. "I see no evidence that the House plans to act on this matter before the end of the month."

He added that while Republicans are likely to offer a counterproposal to the sequester replacement bill that is expected from Senate Democrats later this week, there is little hope that either effort will result in any kind of compromise.

"The majority is going to offer a proposal, I anticipate that we will have an alternative proposal," McConnell said. "That however doesn't lead to a solution ... it just leads to a cover vote."

As The Huffington Post reported last week, Senate Democrats are working on a plan that would delay the sequester until the end of December:

The bill would cut the deficit by $120 billion over 10 years to help replace roughly 10 months' worth of sequestration cuts. Approximately $55 billion would come from revenue hikes and a slightly larger amount than that would come from spending cuts. The rest would be made up of interest savings.

The plan also seeks to raise revenue through the implementation of the Buffett Rule, which sets a minimum tax threshold on millionaire income and would raise an estimated $47 billion over 10 years. Other revenue would come from instituting new rules around IRA accounts, a provision that essentially aims to discourage the wealthy from taking advantage of tax havens.

But Republicans have thus far opposed any proposal that includes new revenues, insisting that President Barack Obama received his tax hikes as part of last month's fiscal cliff deal.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told The Huffington Post on Tuesday that the Senate Democrat proposal "isn't going to go anywhere." McConnell echoed much of the same, offering no indication that his party would move toward Democrats on taxes.

"The tax issue's over. The president got his taxes at the end of the year," he said.

The White House has maintained that its definition of achieving a "balanced" budget is through a combination of spending cuts and revenues raisers. Last week, the Obama administration detailed the consequences of allowing the sequester to take effect and tried to escalate pressure on Congress to pass a small package that would delay the $1.2 trillion of across-the-board spending cuts.

Danny Werfel, federal controller of the Office of Management and Budget, called the sequester a "blunt and indiscriminate instrument that poses a serious threat to our national security, domestic priorities and the economy."

It's a sentiment most Republicans agree with -- in fact, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) used nearly identical language to describe how the destructive nature of the sequester.

"I don't like the way the cuts are oriented, none of us do. It's a pretty blunt instrument," Flake told reporters Tuesday, adding that he didn't vote for the Budget Control Act of 2011 that put the sequester in place. "Having said that, having no cuts at all is far, far, far worse."

During fiscal cliff talks, fear of the worst ultimately brought both sides together. After negotiations between Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) deteriorated, McConnell brokered an agreement with Vice President Joe Biden to avert automatic tax hikes and delay the sequester by a period of two months.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he is scheduled to meet with Boehner later this week to discuss a last-minute deal. But McConnell ruled out playing a role in any final bid to stave off the sequester, which will cut federal agency budgets by an estimated $85 billion in cuts this year alone.

"Read my lips: I’m not interested in an 11th-hour negotiation," McConnell said.

--Elise Foley contributed reporting.

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