WASHINGTON House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in Congress, expressed hope on Wednesday that automatic spending cuts could be averted if President Barack Obama quickly comes up with an alternative.
Boehner made the comments a day after Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said he expects the across-the-board cuts, known as sequester, to begin on schedule on March 1.
Boehner, standing before a blinking sign reading "Countdown to Obamaquester," said it is up to the president and his fellow Democrats in the Senate to move quickly.
"Sequester is bad policy. It takes a meat axe approach to government spending," Boehner, flanked by fellow House Republican leaders, said at a news conference.
"I would hope that it would not happen," Boehner.
"It is incumbent upon the president and Senate Democrats to show us their plan and stop the sequester from going into place," the speaker said.
Senate Democrats are crafting a plan, with a mix of tax hikes and spending cuts, that may be voted on by the chamber the week after next.
But Senate Republicans could block it with a procedural roadblock. Republicans contend that deficit reduction should be limited to spending cuts without any tax hikes.
"Read my lips: I'm not interested in an eleventh-hour negotiation," McConnell said.
"It's pretty clear to me that the sequester's going to go into effect," McConnell said. "I have seen no evidence that the House plans to act on this matter before the end of the month."
Sequester was set in motion in August 2011 as part of a bipartisan deficit-reduction deal.
These cuts were supposed to be so draconian that Congress would be inspired to replace them with more thoughtful ways of reducing the budget deficit.
But Republicans and Democrats have been unable to agree on a substitute.
The cuts will be split evenly between military programs and domestic discretionary spending, with the first seven months' worth coming to about $85 billion if Congress fails to act before March 1.
Boehner has declined to reintroduce legislation passed by the House last year that would shift the cuts from the military to other domestic programs.
Instead, he has simply pinned blame for the looming cuts on Obama, and argued that it is now up for the Democratic-controlled Senate to act.
(Reporting by Thomas Ferraro, David Lawder and Kim Dixon; Editing by Doina Chiacu)