President Barack Obama gestures as he speaks to reporters in the White House briefing room in Washington, Friday, March 1, 2013, following a meeting with congressional leaders regarding the automatic spending cuts. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
WASHINGTON (AP) — Despite their unpopularity, those deep federal spending cuts look like they'll be around for a while.
There appears to be little in the works to undo the budget cuts, although President Barack Obama is calling lawmakers to cajole them to undo them.
But the Senate's Republican leader Mitch McConnell on Sunday called those cuts modest and House Speaker John Boehner said he isn't sure they will hurt the economy. White House economic adviser Gene Sperling says the pain isn't that bad — yet.
After months of dire warnings, the deep budget cuts have started taking hold and there's no evidence officials are moving to reverse the $85 billion in reductions.
"This modest reduction of 2.4 percent in spending over the next six months is a little more than the average American experienced just two months ago, when their own pay went down when the payroll tax holiday expired," McConnell said.
"I don't know whether it's going to hurt the economy or not," Boehner said. "I don't think anyone quite understands how the sequester is really going to work."
But Sperling cautioned: "On Day One, it will not be as harmful as it will be over time."
Both parties cast blame on the other for the automatic, across-the-board spending cuts but gave little guidance on what to expect in the coming weeks. Republicans and Democrats pledged to retroactively undo the cuts, but signaled no hints as to how that process would start to take shape. Republicans insisted there would be no new taxes and Democrats refused to talk about any bargain without them.
"That's not going to work," said Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. "If we're going to increase revenue again, it's got to go to the debt with real entitlement reform and real tax reform when you actually lower rates. ... I'm not going to agree to any more tax increases that are going to go to increase more government."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said any tax increases were unacceptable.
"I'm not going to do any more small deals. I'm not going to raise taxes to fix sequestration. We don't need to raise taxes to fund the government," Graham said.
All of this comes ahead of a new, March 27 deadline to deal with the question of funding the government and a debt-ceiling clash coming in May.
Obama has phoned lawmakers but it isn't clear to what end and the White House would not say whom Obama is calling.
Administration officials planned to criticize the cuts in appearances with those affected by them; Education Secretary Arne Duncan, for instance, planned to appear with school leaders who faced a leaner budget.
"Well, no one can think that that's been a success for the president," said Mitt Romney, Obama's unsuccessful rival in November's election. "He didn't think the sequester would happen. It is happening."
Obama and the Republicans have been fighting over federal spending since the opposition party regained control of the House of Representatives in the 2010 midterm elections. The budget cuts were designed in 2011 to be so ruthless that both sides would be forced to find a better deal, but they haven't despite two years to find a compromise.
The $85 billion in cuts apply to the remainder of the 2013 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. But without a deal they will continue slashing government spending by about $1 trillion more over a 10-year period.
McConnell spoke to CNN's "State of the Union." Boehner was interviewed on NBC's "Meet the Press." Sperling appeared on ABC's "This Week," NBC and CNN. Ayotte appeared on ABC. Graham spoke with CBS' "Face the Nation." Romney was a guest on "Fox News Sunday."
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