Democrats demand Boehner call the House back to deal with sequester
Democrats demand Boehner call the House back to deal with sequester
By Mike Lillis - 02/20/13 03:52 PM ET
House Democrats on Wednesday amplified their calls for Congress to return to Washington and work to prevent across-the-board sequester cuts poised to hit in nine days.
Echoing President Obama, the Democrats are warning of the dire effects those automatic cuts would have on jobs and the nascent economic recovery.
They're hoping the lull of this week's congressional recess will attract attention to the Republicans' stated willingness to allow the sequester to take effect on March 1 rather than submit to new tax revenues, as the Democrats are demanding.
"Speaker [John] Boehner should call the Congress back into session [and] we should act to prevent this self-inflicted loss of three-quarters of a million jobs," Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.) said in a phone call with reporters.
"Being on recess during this period is absolutely absurd," echoed Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.).
The Democrats repeatedly blamed House Republicans for leaving town, but did not mention that Senate Democratic leaders have also kept to this week's scheduled recess.
House Democratic leaders argued last week that the onus is on Boehner and GOP leaders to act first because, constitutionally, any proposal that raises revenues must originate in the House.
"I’m sure that we can get [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid [to] come back if Speaker Boehner will join with us in supporting the plan the House and Senate Democrats and the president of the United States support to avoid the sequester," Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said on Thursday.
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Republicans, however, are opposed to any new revenues as part of the sequester fix, and they've repeatedly called on Obama and Senate Democrats to come up with a plan that can pass both chambers.
"Despite dire warnings from his own secretary of Defense for more than a year that the sequester would ‘hollow out’ our military, the president has yet to put forward a specific plan that can pass his Democratic-controlled Senate, and has exerted no pressure on the Democratic leadership of the Senate to actually pass legislation to replace the sequester he proposed," Boehner said Wednesday in a statement.
The impasse could have a stifling effect on the economy. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has warned that allowing the blunt cuts to take hold would kill an estimated 750,000 jobs between March and January. And on Wednesday, the Pentagon raised those stakes, informing Congress that it will furlough its roughly 800,000 civilian employees if sequestration goes into effect March 1.
“We are doing everything possible to limit the worst effects on DOD personnel — but I regret that our flexibility within the law is extremely limited,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta wrote in a message to the department.
Created as part of the 2011 debt-ceiling deal, the sequester consists more than $1 trillion in automatic cuts split between defense and discretionary domestic spending over the next decade.
The sequester was designed to be so unpopular that it would motivate the fiscal supercommittee – a 12-member bipartisan panel created by the same law – to reach agreement on an alternative deficit reduction plan. The supercommittee failed in that effort, however, and $85 billion in cuts are scheduled for the remainder of this calendar year.
The looming deadline has ignited yet another partisan blame game. Republicans accuse Obama and the Democrats of devising the sequester device, while Democrats counter that it was Republicans who refused to back a clean debt-ceiling hike to begin with, making the sequester necessary to prevent a government default.
"When the American people hear this is something that President Obama wanted to do, they ought to know that's not true, period," Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the Democratic whip, said last week. "This is a Republican policy."
To keep the issue fresh, House Democrats have scheduled a Thursday hearing of their Steering and Policy Committee, which will examine the effects of the sequester cuts on both the public and private sectors.
Appearing before the panel will be the head of the Aerospace Industries Association and the secretary of Washington State's Department of Health, among others.
Obama turns to local TV to press Republicans to avert cuts
By Roberta Rampton and Mark Felsenthal
WASHINGTON | Wed Feb 20, 2013 10:00pm EST
(Reuters) - President Barack Obama turned to local television stations across the United States on Wednesday to increase public pressure on congressional Republicans to avert $85 billion in budget cuts set to begin in nine days.
Obama scheduled five-minute interviews with television stations in eight media markets, most of which have a strong military presence, on a day when the Pentagon described its plans for laying off some 800,000 civilian employees for 22 days to save money.
In the interviews, reporters referred to forecasts of potential job losses in their states: 12,000 jobs in Maryland and 60,000 jobs in Massachusetts, for example.
"What I say to them is that there's no reason they should be furloughed, there's no reason they should lose their jobs or be laid off. This is a problem Congress can solve," Obama said in an interview with Baltimore CBS affiliate WJZ.
The interviews are part of an administration strategy to lay blame for the job losses on Republicans, who control the House of Representatives and are insisting on deeper spending cuts to reduce the $16 trillion national debt.
Unless Obama and Republicans reach a deal, about $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts will kick in at the beginning of March and continue through September 30 as part of a decade-long $1.2 trillion budget savings plan agreed to by policymakers in 2011.
Not even White House operations will be spared, an administration official said. "We anticipate significant disruption to our operations and mission, which could include furloughs," said the official.
OBAMA TAKES HEAT ON JETS
Obama has said he wants Congress to end tax loopholes enjoyed mainly by the wealthy to buy lawmakers enough time to pass a budget, such as a tax break for corporate jet owners.
But he was taken to task for the rhetoric on corporate jets in an interview with ABC affiliate KAKE in Wichita, Kansas, home to thousands of aviation manufacturing jobs at plants owned by Learjet-maker Bombardier, Spirit AeroSystems, and privately held Cessna.
"We want to give more tax breaks to all the aviation companies in Kansas, so that they are hiring here and producing here," Obama said, arguing that the existing tax break for jet owners doesn't spur sales.
"The reason people buy corporate jets is its extremely convenient and they can afford it. And they don't need an extra tax break," he said.
Obama also talked to local TV news anchors in Boston, Oklahoma City, San Francisco, Honolulu, San Antonio and Charleston, South Carolina.
Congress is not in session this week and is not expected to reach a deal by the March 1 deadline. Instead, lawmakers will work on a deal to fund government agencies later in the month.
The battle over "sequestration" - the name for the automatic spending cuts - is the latest in a series of fights between Obama and Republicans over the nation's deficit.
Obama has also tried to lay the groundwork for a broader economic strategy and argued the government should invest in infrastructure and manufacturing to help address a stubbornly high unemployment rate.