Rice defends deadline vacationBy James Rosen and David LightmanMcClatchy Newspapers

02/15/2013 7:28 PM

02/15/2013 7:29 PM

Barely in Congress a month, Rep. Tom Rice is already defending himself against partisan attacks.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on Friday targeted the Myrtle Beach Republican in a scathing attack that ridiculed him for going on vacation despite looming forced spending cuts in key programs.

“With millions of jobs on the line, Congressman Tom Rice voted with his tea party colleagues today to skip town without a solution to the sequester crisis,” the DCCC said in a release.

“Tea party Republicans would rather protect millionaires than prevent devastating cuts to defense and key domestic investments like medical research, the Army Corps of Engineers, Headstart and job training,” said the main House campaign arm of the Democratic Party.

Rice, just starting his first term representing the new 7th Congressional District, turned the tables as he blamed the impasse on President Barack Obama.

“The president insisted that the sequester become law and in 2011 said he would veto any effort to get rid of the sequester,” said Caroline Vanvick, Rice’s press secretary.

“The House has voted twice to replace the sequester, however Senate Democrats and the president have refused to act,” Vanvick said.

House Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn of Columbia, S.C., disputed that claim.

“Democrats have proposed a balanced plan to prevent this mindless, meat-ax approach to budget cuts, but House Republicans voted to adjourn the House without taking action on this pressing matter,” Clyburn said. “The American people deserve better than the Republicans’ failed leadership.”

The dispute dates to the prolonged summer 2011 conflict over the federal debt ceiling. After weeks of impasse, Republicans agreed to increase the government’s borrowing authority in exchange for some immediate spending cuts and more promised ones.

The August 2011 deal set up $1.2 trillion in forced cuts, under a system called sequestration, to begin at the start of 2013 if Congress couldn’t find substitute spending reductions of the same amount.

As that deadline approached late last year with no new agreement in sight, Congress passed a temporary budget measure that set a new time limit of March 1.

Lawmakers now face threatened military readiness, food inspections, teaching jobs, mental health services and more, all because of the automatic spending cuts due to take effect in less than two weeks.

Congress, though, has left the building.

The House and the Senate are off until Feb. 25 for the Presidents Day recess. That leaves four days to find a way to avoid automatic spending reductions, which the White House warns will “threaten thousands of jobs and the economic security of the middle class.”

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