Obama invites congressional leaders to meet

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WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama summoned congressional leaders to a meeting at the White House Friday, the day $85 billion in spending cuts begin, as both parties say a deal to avert them probably won't come before the deadline.

Republicans John Boehner, the House speaker, and Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, and Democrats Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, and Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, will attend the meeting.

The timing signals that Obama probably won't spend much effort seeking to prevent the cuts before they begin. Instead, Democrats say they expect the public to blame Republicans.

The parties are far apart on how to replace the cuts totaling $1.2 trillion over nine years, with $85 billion in the remaining seven months of this fiscal year.

Democrats insist tax increases must be part of a replacement plan, an approach Republican leaders oppose.

"One thing Americans simply will not accept is another tax increase to replace spending reductions we already agreed to," McConnell said in an emailed statement. He said the meeting "is an opportunity for us to visit with the president about how we can all keep our commitment to reduce Washington spending."

Boehner told fellow House Republicans during a closed caucus that he considers the meeting a "listening session" and doesn't intend to negotiate, according to Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.)

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama remains unwilling to consider a proposal that doesn't couple cuts with tax increases, Carney said.

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Obama has until 11:59 p.m. Friday to issue an order officially putting the cuts into effect.

Most of its effects will not be felt for several weeks, as they are implemented. Furlough notices to federal employees are likely to be among the first steps the government takes.

Among many warnings from the Obama administration of possible damage to public services, the Air Force said its Thunderbirds exhibition flying team is expected to be grounded if sequestration happens.

The Pentagon will put most of its 800,000 civilian employees on unpaid leave for 22 days, slash ship and aircraft maintenance and curtail training.

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New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in Washington to talk with the White House and senators about gun legislation, urged the president and leaders in both parties to "come together and intelligently find a way to reduce the deficit, but not with a meat ax."

With Tom Brune, Reuters

and The Washington Post

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