So, what's next?
That's the question on the minds of everyone here in Washington as we head into the weekend.
Over the past week, we saw Congress struggle with how to avoid the looming automatic budget cuts, Catholics worldwide flock to the Vatican to hear Pope Benedict XVI say farewell in his final public address, and the House pass the Violence Against Women Act in a rare bipartisan push. The most pressing issue in our minds? $85 billion in government spending cuts is at stake if Congress and the president fail to deal with the budget crisis by... well, today. With all this uncertainty going on in Washington and abroad, we are wondering – where do we go from here?
Countdown to budget cuts: Today is the dreaded day, when President Obama is required to begin implementing the highly unpopular spending cuts. By Thursday afternoon, Congress and the president still had not worked out a deal to avoid cuts starting Friday. A Senate vote Thursday was deeply divided, rejecting plans presented by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). McConnell insisted Thursday that Democrats are determined to block a solution that would avoid cuts, while Reid said Republicans put special interest groups' demands over the best interest of average Americans. McConnell said the president wants to make the cuts "bite as hard as possible - all to send a simple message to the public: 'You want to control Washington spending, America? Fine, let me show you much I can make it hurt.'"
Clearly, fists are flying on both sides as it comes down to the final hours before the forced cuts are implemented. With Obama waiting to meet with Hill leaders of both parties until Friday, and many House members heading to their districts for the weekend, expectations are low for reaching a decision today. We'll talk Sunday with both sides – including White House adviser and Director of the National Economic Council Gene Sperling and Sen. Mitch McConnell about what comes next, with the March 1 deadline come and gone.
Help Wanted: Leader of 1.2 billion Catholics: With Pope Benedict XVI announcement of his resignation after only eight years as the leader of the world's Roman Catholics earlier this month, a whirlwind of questions surrounded his sudden decision. On Thursday, Benedict delivered his final public address, marking the first resignation of a Roman Catholic pope in six centuries. With speculations on the former pontiff's health swirling, and his sudden departure leaving Catholics without a leader, it is an uncertain – and unprecedented – time for the Church. The official @Pontifex Twitter account of the pope has been cleared, reading now only "Sede Vacante," or empty seat. Who will be the new leader, how the Vatican will handle the transition and where does the Church go from here?
Showdown 2014 – Who will run?: It is still a year and a half away, but already House and Senate hopefuls are announcing interest in running in midterm elections in 2014. Thursday, Iowa Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds said she might run for Democratic Senator Tom Harkin's seat in the wake of his announcement that he won't run for a sixth term in 2014. The race for Harkin's seat is expected to be one of the most hotly contested elections next year. Reynolds's announcement is just the beginning of the push for Senate in 2014 – we expect we'll be hearing much more of this in Washington in the next few months.
Make sure to check back later today for our full Rundown and don’t forget to tune in Sunday at 9am & Noon ET.