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Leaders to meet with Obama on sequester deadline day

After weeks of argument over the sequester, bipartisan congressional leaders will meet with the president at the White House on Friday -- the same day that automatic federal spending cuts are scheduled to go into effect. 

President Barack Obama will meet with House Speaker John Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to discuss the across-the-board budget reductions to federal agencies, aides told NBC News.

Republicans were quick to question why the White House would schedule the meeting only on the final day of the belabored back-and-forth over the cuts.

"If the President is serious about stopping the sequester, why did he schedule a meeting on Tuesday for Friday when the sequester hits at midnight on Thursday?" a Republican aide told NBC. "Either someone needs to buy the White House a calendar, or this is just a - belated - farce.  They ought to at least pretend to try."

White House spokesman Jay Carney said that Obama also spoke briefly with congressional leaders Wednesday when he attended the unveiling of a statue of civil rights icon Rosa Parks at the Capitol. 

Asked why the longer White House meeting is not happening today, Carney told reporters that "the Senate is still yet to vote, hopefully will vote tomorrow, on a proposal that achieves the kind of postponement of the sequester deadline that would allow Congress to move forward on balanced deficit reduction in a sensible, no-drama fashion that would avoid these unnecessary impacts across the economy and the country." 

That measure has very little chance of passing both chambers.

Carney also disputed the assumption that the sequester goes into effect at midnight on Thursday night. By law, the president must execute the cuts on March 1st, meaning that they can be averted until 11:59 ET on Friday, he said. 

The sequester's origins -- and mechanisms to stop the self-executing cuts -- have been the subject of finger-pointing between both parties. The president has blamed Republicans for refusing a compromise that would include the closure of tax loopholes, while the GOP has blamed Senate Democrats for failing to propose a legislative fix.

McConnell described the meeting Friday as an opportunity to discuss spending reductions more broadly. 

"The meeting Friday is an opportunity for us to visit with the President about how we can all keep our commitment to reduce Washington spending," he said in a statement. "With a $16.6 trillion national debt, and a promise to the American people to address it, one thing is perfectly clear: we will cut Washington spending. We can either secure those reductions more intelligently, or we can do it the President's way with across-the board cuts. But one thing Americans simply will not accept is another tax increase to replace spending reductions we already agreed to."

NBC's Kristen Welker contributed to this report.