With sequestration set to strike on Friday, House Speaker John Boehner returned to the Capitol after a nine-day recess with no apparent change in his political posture: If the $85 billion cuts are going to be averted, Boehner insists, it's up to the Senate to act.
Some lawmakers had returned to Washington today hoping for a "hail Mary" attempt to avert the looming sequestration cuts.
"Time is running out," Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., said on the House floor shortly after legislative business resumed. "The president should be working with House Republicans by engaging in the legislative process."
"We only have four days left to go and our country's overall well-being depends on it," House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., warned.
But considering Boehner's firm resistance to a Democratic proposal to offset half of the cuts with new taxes, the sequester seems certain to take effect untouched.
"The president says we have to have another tax increase in order to avoid the sequester," Boehner R-Ohio, told reporters outside his office suite today. "Mr. President, you got your tax increase. It's time to cut spending here in Washington."
Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, called on both parties "to work together" to find a balanced solution. But he, like most Democrats, remains adamant that a deal must include new taxes in addition to targeted savings.
"Budget discipline is absolutely necessary, but damaging job growth and our economy to do so is self-defeating," Hoyer said on the House floor today. "While many Republicans have been praising the sequester as a viable path forward, Democrats recognize this mindless policy for the danger it is."
Boehner expressed hope that an eleventh-hour deal to offset the $85 billion across-the-board cuts could still be reached, but he continued to pressure Senate Democrats to vote on their proposal before any other options are considered in the House.
"Hope springs eternal," Boehner said. "It's time for [Senate Democrats] to act. I've made this clear for months now and yet we've seen nothing."
When asked about the prospect for a solution last Friday, President Obama responded identically that "hope springs eternal."
House Republicans voted twice during the 112 th Congress to narrowly pass legislation to offset the sequester with alternative savings, but those measures languished in the Senate and expired with the end of the session. After House Republicans lost eight seats in the last election, a senior Democratic leadership aide doubted that Republicans have enough support within their conference to repeat the feat for a third time. A senior GOP leadership aide, however, said Boehner has the Republican votes to pass the replacement again.
"The House has acted twice," Boehner said. "We shouldn't have to act a third time before the Senate begins to do their work."
Boehner also criticized President Obama for planning a trip to Newport News, Va., Tuesday where the president hopes to draw attention to some of the potential impacts of the arbitrary cuts.
"The president proposed the sequester yet he's far more interested in holding campaign rallies than he is in urging his Senate Democrats to actually pass a plan," he said. "Instead of using our military men and women as campaign props, if the president was serious, he'd sit down with Harry Reid and begin to address our problems."
The speaker said he did not know how many jobs would be lost if the cuts take hold on Friday, but he warned that by continuing to ignore the country's ballooning debt, potential job creation is threatened.
"If we don't solve the spending problem here in Washington, there will be tens of millions of jobs in the future that won't happen because of the debt load that's being laid on the backs of our kids and our grandkids," he said. "I came here to save the American dream for my kids and yours. This debt problem and the president's addiction to spending is threatening their future."