Republicans stand firm against tax hikes as sequester continues, look to broad budget discussion

WASHINGTON – After another round of finger-pointing over budget cuts required by the sequester, Republican leaders on Sunday rejected Democratic calls for tax hikes but indicated they would like to reopen negotiations for a grand bargain that reduces spending on entitlement programs.

But there was no sign Sunday that the parties were actively trying to reverse the $85 billion in cuts triggered on Friday. Instead, the next round of negotiations is expected to center on congressional action regarding the federal budget and a broader discussion about an overhaul of the tax code and entitlements.

Gene Sperling, director of the White House National Economic Council, said Sunday that President Obama had worked during the weekend calling Republican and Democratic senators to join what he believes can be a “caucus of common sense” regarding the budget.

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“The president is free to call whoever he chooses to,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday morning. But, said the Kentucky Republican, “so far I haven’t heard a single Senate Republican say they are willing to raise a dime in taxes to turn off the sequester.”

House speaker John Boehner repeated his stance in an interview with David Gregory on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “The president got his tax hikes on January 1,” said the Ohio Republican, referring to the $600 billion in taxes that came out of Washington’s last fiscal crisis.

“The issue here is spending. Spending is out of control,” Boehner said. “There are smarter ways to cut spending than the silly sequester the president demanded.”

Despite the philosophical standoff over how to deal with the nation’s debt crisis, Boehner and McConnell expressed willingness to call a long enough truce with their Democratic colleagues to allay fears of a government shutdown at the end of the month.

The House this week will vote to extend the continuing resolution to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year, September 30, before beginning work on a budget for the next fiscal year, Boehner said.

“I’m hopeful that the House and Senate will be able to work through this,” Boehner said. “Out of that discussion and out of that process, maybe we can find a way to deal with our long-term spending problem.”

McConnell said he believes both Republicans and Democrats will agree to fund the government at the lower level of spending mandated by the so-called sequestration, which cuts spending by 2.4 percent over the next six months.

Sperling, who made the rounds Sunday on CNN, NBC and ABC, said that Obama will continue working the phones, talking to Democrats who understand that the country needs to make “serious progress” on long-term entitlement reform and Republicans who are willing to raise revenue and take part in a bipartisan compromise.

“He’s making those calls to see where there might be a coalition of the willing, a caucus for common sense, and trying to build trust, so he’s going to be having a lot more conversations like that,” Sperling told CNN’s Candy Crowley.