With less than 12 hours before sequestration becomes an official federal mandate, the prospects of lawmakers reaching a deal to avert sweeping, across-the-board spending cuts are virtually nonexistent. But as the so-called "sequestration" takes on a feel of increasing inevitability in Washington, politicians on both sides of the aisle are scrambling to assign blame for what many believe could lead to dire economic consequences.
In a series of press briefings and floor speeches today, lawmakers took to the microphone to blast their political counterparts for proposed theft, moral bankruptcy, and professional incompetence.
"How much more money do we want to steal from the American people to fund more government?" asked House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, in a press briefing this morning. "I'm for no more."
Boehner, towing the Republican line, assigned blame to the president for having allegedly "insisted" on the sequestration, and to Democrats for derailing Republican alternatives to avert it.
"It is the president's sequester," Boehner said. "The House has acted twice over the last 10 months to replace these cuts with smarter cuts. We've done our job... I'm happy to talk to the president, I'm happy to work with the president, but the House has done its job."
While the idea for sequestration did originate in the White House, both Republicans and Democrats supported the idea, with 174 House Republicans - including Boehner - voting in its favor. The House did pass two bills to avert the cuts, as Boehner said, but neither of them would have had any support from Democrats in the Senate, and White House would likely have vetoed them. Moreover, both are currently invalid because they were passed in the last congressional session.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., meanwhile, blasted Republicans for allegedly doing worse than just "kick the can down the road" on the issue.
"They're nudging the potato across the table with their noses," she accused. "We come to Washington to be legislators, representatives of our district and to be legislators. And somehow that piece is missing from what the Republicans are doing - they're just making noise... Either they don't want to legislate or they don't know how to legislate."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who earlier today was rebuffed in an offer to bring to the Senate floor both Republican and Democratic bills on averting sequester if the votes were held at majority thresholds, went after Republican motives for rejecting his idea.
"Are Republicans really filibustering a vote on replacing the sequester?" he asked on the Senate floor. Later, in a press briefing, he added: "The Republicans want the sequester to go forward!"
Reid will hold a vote for the Democratic proposal this afternoon, but that bill is not expected to garner the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster, and is expected to go nowhere.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., argued that Reid and fellow Democrats want their bill to fail - "so they can go around the country blaming Republicans for a sequester the president himself proposed.
"They're so concerned about preventing anything from actually passing the Congress that they've limited the ability of senators on both sides to debate this issue openly and to offer different ideas," he contended.
In reality, both sides are refusing to compromise. President Obama is expected to sign a directive making sequestration official tomorrow, at which point he will meet with congressional leaders from both parties to discuss the way forward. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) will also release a report detailing the specifics of sequestration tomorrow.
If a deal can be worked out before April, when some of the impacts of sequestration will begin to feel real, much of the potential damage will be averted. But there's a lot of ground to make up in the next 30 days: As of now, the two parties don't have a lot to say in agreement on the subject. Just this afternoon, the White House endorsed the Democratic Senate plan while threatening to veto a GOP proposal.
In the meantime, the blame game continues.
"House Republicans deserve to be called to task for leaving the American people in the lurch," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., to reporters today.