House Speaker John Boehner calls the looming sequester a "meat ax" approach to budget cuts. The White House says allowing the automatic cuts to take effect would be a "self-inflicted wound from Washington."
So both sides want to find a better way to reduce the deficit than across-the-board spending cuts to domestic and defense programs. Problem solved, right?
Not so fast.
President Obama wants the Republicans to agree to close tax loopholes — ending some subsidies and effectively increasing taxes on the wealthy and corporations — in addition to spending cuts, but he hasn't spelled out what cuts he would support.
Congressional Republicans say Obama already got some tax increases in the deal that averted the "fiscal cliff" at the end of 2012, and they're in no mood to give him any more.
The president has asked Congress to help him push the issue even farther down the road by agreeing to some modest cuts and some moderate tax increases to allow time to negotiate a long-term deficit-reduction package. House Republicans say they won't go along.
A group of Senate Democratic leaders, including Majority Leader Harry Reid, Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), are reportedly working on a package of cuts and revenue increases that would replace about 10 months of sequestration cuts. Chances of that package even passing the Senate, let alone the House, are slim to none, but at least they can say they made a proposal.
All this posturing has been going on since 2011, when congressional Republicans threatened to force the government to default on its obligations by refusing to raise the debt limit, and the president agreed to the "sequester" — across-the-board, automatic budget cuts to take effect on a certain date in the future — to avoid a potentially disastrous outcome.
The sequester was postponed to March 1 at the end of the last Congress. The new deadline is now three weeks away.
Both sides say they want to avoid it. Both sides insist on their own solution. Both sides should climb down from their high horses and get it done.