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Washington Week: Focus on Austerity

  • Michael Bowman

A federal budget showdown will consume Washington’s political oxygen when U.S. lawmakers get back to work Monday after a week-long recess.

America is bracing for across-the-board federal spending cuts, known as a sequester, that will automatically begin Friday.

“They will slow our economy. They will eliminate good jobs. They will leave many families who are already stretched to the limit scrambling to figure out what to do,” President Barack Obama warned.

The president has urged Congress to pass an alternative deficit-reduction package of targeted spending cuts and revenue hikes.

“These cuts do not have to happen. Congress can turn them off anytime with just a little compromise. They can pass a balanced plan for deficit reduction,” he noted.

But Republicans reject additional tax revenue, arguing the root of America’s fiscal imbalance is runaway spending.

“The sequester will be in effect until there are cuts and reforms that put us on a path to balance the budget over the next 10 years, period!” House Speaker John Boehner announced.

As budget cuts loom, Democrats and Republicans are blaming each other. Fear of voter anger over slashed government services has yet to spur a bipartisan substitute for the sequester.

Meanwhile, the Senate is expected to act on President Obama’s choice for defense secretary, former senator Chuck Hagel. Republicans delayed a confirmation vote earlier this month, demanding more time to probe Hagel’s views on global affairs.

“This is not about politics. This is not about personalities. It is about questions like whether Iran should be allowed to get a nuclear weapon,” Senator John Cornyn said.

Republicans have promised to allow a vote this week, and Hagel’s confirmation is expected in the Democratically-controlled Senate. Votes could also be held on CIA director nominee John Brennan and treasury secretary nominee Jack Lew.

The full extent of the Obama administration's backing for same-sex marriage rights could be illuminated if the Justice Department files a brief in a landmark Supreme Court case. Last week, the department urged the court to strike down a law barring federal recognition of same-sex marriages. This week, the department could weigh in on a case challenging California’s ban on same-sex marriage.

“I think that same-sex couples should have the same rights and be treated like everybody else,” President Obama said a few days ago.

Gay rights advocates want the administration to argue for same-sex marriage as a constitutional right. If the Supreme Court agreed, it could open the door to gay marriage nationwide. The court will hear oral arguments on same-sex marriage next month, with rulings expected in June.

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