Obama reaches out to Boehner, McConnell as sequester cuts loom
Obama reaches out to Boehner, McConnell as sequester cuts loom
By Justin Sink - 02/21/13 01:49 PM ET
President Obama on Thursday reached out to Republican leaders in Congress amid the ongoing impasse over $85 billion in spending cuts set to begin on March 1.
Obama made phone calls to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), although White House press secretary Jay Carney declined to give details of the call.
"He placed calls earlier today to Senator McConnell and Speaker Boehner, had good conversations, but I have no further readout of those calls for you," Carney told reporters.
The calls appear aimed at demonstrating Obama is engaged in trying to avert the sequester — which the president has described as a "meat cleaver" approach to budget cutting — and to answer GOP criticisms he hasn't reached out to them on major policy disputes.
Earlier this week, Obama placed calls to several Republican senators — including Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) — after they criticized him for not talking to them about immigration reform.
With little apparent momentum to avoid the sequester cuts, Obama has waged a public campaign aimed at setting up the GOP for blame if they are not averted.
On Thursday, Obama said he didn't know if Republicans would be willing to continue negotiating to avoid the across-the-board cuts.
"At this point, we continue to reach out to Republicans and say this is not going to be good for the economy and this is not going to be good for ordinary people, but I don't know if they're going to move," Obama said during an interview on Al Sharpton's radio show. "We're going to have to try to keep pushing over the next seven or eight days."
In the interview with Sharpton, Obama repeated his charge that Republicans valued tax carve-outs for the wealthy over averting the sequester cuts.
"My sense is their basic view is that nothing is important enough to raise taxes on wealthy individuals or corporations, and they would prefer to see these kind of cuts that could slow down our recovery over closing tax loopholes," Obama said. "And that's the thing that binds their party together at this point."
Republicans have disputed that characterization, with Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck saying that Republicans were open to closing loopholes — as long as savings were not used to finance new deficit spending.
"Americans know that if they give President Obama more tax revenue, he isn't going to use it to reduce the deficit; he's going to spend it," Buck said in a statement Tuesday.
Obama also argued that he felt like he had the political advantage, pointing to a USA Today poll released Thursday that showed a majority of Americans supported a deficit deal that included both new revenues and spending reduction.
"When you look at polling, 75 percent of the American people agree with me, that the way to reduce deficit sensibly is through a combination of spending cuts and tax revenue," Obama said.
"Unfortunately I think Republicans right now are so dug in on this notion of never raising taxes that it becomes difficult for them to see an obvious answer right in front of them."
Republicans have argued that they already agreed to new revenues in the "fiscal cliff" deal last month, and that a sequester deal should come only from spending cuts.
The interview with Sharpton was one of three taped Thursday with African-American radio hosts, the latest leg of a media blitz intended to intensify pressure on congressional Republicans.
On Wednesday, Obama taped interviews with eight television stations, and earlier in the week he gave a speech urging a sequester deal at a White House event featuring first-responders facing furloughs or layoffs.
By DARREN SAMUELSOHN and SCOTT WONG | 2/21/13 6:28 PM EST
President Barack Obama and members of Congress have dubbed sequestration “stupid,” “dumb” and “irresponsible.” But here’s one thing none of them are calling it: “My fault.”
With across-the-board spending cuts about to start March 1 absent a last-minute breakthrough, the excuses are piling up for how the country is yet again on the brink of a new fiscal fiasco that has everything to do with the other guy.
(PHOTOS: What they’re saying about sequestration)
It’s hard to know who will end up taking the biggest political hit if the latest Washington-induced crisis moves from theoretical to real — but the answer may well lie in which side can get the public to buy into its finger-pointing at the other side.
That’s why the excuses matter: Polls show Obama has the upper hand now over unpopular lawmakers, but much can change if sequestration upends the country’s economic recovery and Americans lose their jobs and access to popular government services.
Here’s a look at 10 of the most frequent excuses employed by Democrats and Republicans as the sequestration debate reaches its climax:
1. House GOP: Hey, we did our job. What’s Obama waiting for?
House Speaker John Boehner was back to this argument Wednesday after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned that most of his civilian employees would face furloughs if the sequester starts next week. The Ohio Republican cited two House-passed bills from last Congress that would replace the sequester with “common-sense cuts and reforms that protect our national security.”
But here’s the problem: Both of the House bills shift much of the cuts away from the Pentagon and onto other cash-strapped domestic agencies. For that reason, both were long ago considered DOA in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
2. Obama and the Democrats: Yup, Republicans are STILL protecting the rich.
The nation’s debt is so deep that sequester alone won’t fix it. Democrats say Republicans know this, but ideology won’t let them go along with some of the other ideas on the table, including overhauling the country’s clunky tax code and even making changes to entitlement programs.
Without new tax revenue, Democratic party leaders say there’s really no way out of this mess. “With our economy fragile and the uncertainty in the economy, to just burn the house down right now makes no sense to me,” Washington Sen. Patty Murray, the No. 4 Democrat in leadership, told POLITICO. “It needs to be balanced, balanced, balanced.”
Another liberal, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), echoed Obama’s call for raising revenue by closing loopholes and limiting deductions that benefit the rich. “The wealthy are doing phenomenally well while the middle class is getting decimated,” he said in an interview.
(PHOTOS: 12 things less popular than Congress)
3. Both sides: Don’t look at me. I didn't vote for it in the first place.
This is the refrain available for about 130 House members and 25 senators still serving from the last Congress who voted “Nay” when the Budget Control Act hit the floor in August 2011. Conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats both fall into this category, allowing them to take credit for being among the first to register their objections to the idea of blunt spending cuts triggered if the so-called supercommittee couldn’t reach its own deal on more than $1 trillion in deficit reduction.
Of course, “I told you so” doesn’t exactly make the