WASHINGTON, Feb. 28, 2013 – A major across-the-board cut to all federal government departments, including the Agriculture Department, is becoming increasingly likely as congressional lawmakers and the administration continue to disagree about how to end the impasse.

Lawmakers are expected to meet with President Obama on Friday to try to find a way to avert the sequestration, which could amount to a possible five percent cut to USDA funding and lead to a furlough of food safety inspectors. The sequestration is set to take effect on March 1.

On the Senate floor Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Republican proposals to avoid the sequestration amount to “really weak sauce.”

Reid and other Democrats want to close various tax loopholes to solve the issue, while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., wants to continue pushing for spending cuts.

On the Senate floor, Reid bemoaned the lack of movement.

“Republicans won't work with Democrats, Republicans have failed to make their own proposals, and refuse to compromise on a balanced plan to avoid harsh austerity measures,” Reid said.

Reid said that Republicans “appear poised to allow air traffic controllers, FBI agents, and others to be furloughed.”

Firing back, McConnell said the Democrats are just “offering a gimmicky tax hike that is designed to fail.”

“Republicans have been calling for Democrats to work with us on the sequester over and over and over again,” McConnell said. “We're still ready to work with them to get something responsible passed, but we can't do it alone.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has said that if Congress fails to avoid a sequester, the department would have to furlough food safety inspectors for 15 days.

Stakeholders have said such a move could threaten the U.S. meat industry and cause skyrocketing prices for consumers.

“If a sequester takes effect, up to 2,100 fewer food inspections could occur, putting families at risk and costing billions in lost food production,” the White House wrote in a recent fact sheet.

Vilsack said furloughs would begin at the USDA anywhere from 30 to 120 days after March 1.



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