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Analysis: With Sequestration Looming, Congress Looks At 'Down Payment'

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Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are continuing to negotiate a way to avoid deep, across-the-board spending cuts set to go into effect in 2013. They could have substantial economic impacts in our area. While there's general agreement that there won't be a final deal before the November elections, Alex Bolton, senior staff writer with The Hill newspaper, explains that there are a number of possibilities being discussed.

You've been reporting on the possibility of making a "down payment" to at least delay the cuts.  What would that look like?

"It would cost $55 billion to postpone them for six months, which is how long lawmakers think they need to come up with a broader deal to address the deficit. What's emerging now is that it's becoming clear that Democratic leaders aren't going to agree to turn off the sequester unless there is some sort of promise to do a bigger deal at a later point. The optimism about getting this done in December is evaporating. It means for the sequester to be turned off before they go into effect, the most likely scenario is a downtime that would give Congress more time to work. The down payment would have to be linked to some kind of trigger mechanism that would give Congress incentive to get going on tax reform, which is seen as key to this deal.

What kind of chances would that kind of plan have to pass the House and Senate?

"The Democratic leadership believes that after the November election, the Tea Party strength will be much reduced. That's just something we'll have to find out and see if it happens. The conservatives in the House have been the biggest obstacle to getting any sort of agreement to reduce the deficit, because they don't want to agree on this issue of raising revenues. So, if the Tea Party is weakened on election day, then perhaps we can see a compromise. The bottom line is that members of both parties don't want to see these automatic cuts take effect, so there is incentive to get this down payment passed."

Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia has been playing an active role in these negotiations. Now he's been joining fellow Democrat Tim Kaine on the campaign trail. Kaine is running for the other U.S. Senate seat in Virginia. What kind of role could Warner play in the Senate race?

"Warner has been at the heart of these negotiations that have been going on for months, but right now they're the only bi-partisan negotiations going on on the Hill that we know of. In an effort to turn off the sequester, he attended a dinner last week with a bipartisan group of senators to talk about tax reform. His efforts to reach across the aisle and work with Republicans is seen by Tim Kaine as an asset. He kicked off a two-day campaign trip with Warner to stress his own bipartisan credentials."

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