Tags: Obama | Public | Republicans | Budget

Obama Appeals to Public to Pressure Republicans to Bow on Budget

Friday, 01 March 2013 07:26 PM

President Barack Obama sought to personalize the consequences of imminent automatic spending cuts, warning of their effects on “individual people” in a bid to intensify voter pressure on Republicans to compromise with him on the dispute.

Even as Obama acknowledged that most people wouldn’t feel the impact for weeks of the first phase of across-the-board spending reductions -- known as sequestration -- he stressed Friday the prospect of long-term damage to the economy. He also vowed that the standoff over the cuts, which begin with $85 billion over the next seven months, would eventually be settled and that the government would stay open in the face of the additional looming threat of a shutdown.

“This is not going to be an apocalypse,” Obama told reporters hastily called to the White House briefing room this morning. “It’s just dumb. And it’s going to hurt individual people and it’s going to hurt the economy overall.”

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Spotlighting the impact at a personal level, he said, “Unemployment will not go down as quickly as it would have. And there are lives behind that.”

Obama, who during the 2012 presidential race pledged the spending reductions “will not happen,” is escalating his campaign-like strategy to cast blame on Republicans for the standoff, counting on public pressure to sway his opponents.

Gone for Weekend

As he spoke, Congress had already adjourned for weekend, and he urged citizens to demand that Republicans accept what he calls a balanced budget package. He said that means one that includes revisions to entitlement programs such as Medicare, as well as more tax revenue without raising rates.

He said he believed “common sense” would prevail once “members of Congress start hearing from constituents who are being negatively impacted” by the sequestration.

Republicans placed ownership of the sequestration on the president and his party for failing to come up with an alternative proposal.

“Even today there’s no plan from Senate Democrats or the White House to replace the sequester,” House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said in an interview on NBC News’s “Meet the Press” scheduled to air Sunday, according to excerpts released by NBC.

“Over the last 10 months, House Republicans have acted twice to replace the sequester,” Boehner said in the interview, referring measures passed by the chamber last year that expired when the new Congress took office early this year.

White House Meeting

Obama spoke shortly after a final meeting at the White House with congressional leaders before he was set later Friday to order federal departments and agencies to begin cutting their budgets. The meeting, which lasted less than an hour, was largely a formality, with little expectation it would resolve the disagreements over how to replace the total of $1.2 trillion in cuts that sequestration would implement over nine years.

The meeting’s principal participants -- which aside from Boehner included Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat -- emerged from the session with dueling statements that didn’t deviate from the positions both sides have staked out in recent weeks.

Tax Issue

Boehner left the White House without giving any indication that his party’s lawmakers would budge from their rejection of raising tax revenue. Obama has called for replacing sequestration with a combination of reduced spending and higher revenue from closing loopholes in the tax code for the wealthiest Americans.

“The president got his tax hikes on Jan. 1,” Boehner said Friday, referring to the deal at the end of last year that let income-tax rates rise for top-income earners.

He said the House will vote next week on legislation to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year so Congress won’t have to deal with the risk of a government shutdown while negotiating an agreement on cutting the deficit.

Obama, too, said he wanted to avoid a shutdown, describing the other budget battle as “preventable.”

“There’s no reason why we should have another crisis by shutting the government down in addition to these arbitrary spending cuts,” the president said.

With no formal negotiations taking place between Obama and congressional leaders to avert sequestration, lawmakers have been telegraphing for weeks that they expected the automatic spending cuts to go into effect, at least temporarily.

Head ‘Horns’

Obama, in expressing his frustration with Republicans, made light of what he said was their inability to work with him. He said he has asked himself what he could do to make House lawmakers “not paint horns on my head.”

The showdown is occurring amid signs the world’s largest economy is on stronger footing. And while private and government economists have said the cuts may trim growth if they stay in place, investors have signaled they aren’t concerned.

Manufacturing in the U.S. expanded at a faster pace than forecast in February, reaching the highest level since June 2011, the Institute for Supply Management’s factory index showed Friday. The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan final index of consumer sentiment climbed to 77.6 last month from 73.8 in January, which may indicate a boost in consumer spending.

Stocks erased losses Friday. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 0.2 percent to close at 1,518.20 after dropping as much as 0.9 percent earlier. The gain left the benchmark gauge up almost 0.2 percent for the week. The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 35.17 points to 14,089.66 Friday, its highest closing level since October 2007, the month it set an all-time high of 14,164.53.

Administration Warnings

The administration has warned that the spending cuts, split between defense and domestic programs, threaten to eventually send poor children home from pre-school, prolong airport security wait times, reduce unemployment benefits and furlough defense workers.

Obama, while saying the automatic cuts wouldn’t lead to a “huge financial crisis,” also cautioned that “people are going to be hurt.”

The president, who has been criticized by Republicans for hyping the consequences, offered a montage of those lives -- Border Patrol agents “in the hot sun” getting a 10 percent pay cut, servicemen and women deployed to Afghanistan worrying about their children’s education being disrupted on an Army base, and janitors who clean the Capitol building managing with less pay.

‘Sacred Cows’

Pelosi, addressing reporters after Obama spoke, said House Democrats wouldn’t be an “obstacle to a big, balanced and bold agreement.” Still, she said Republicans would need to show movement “in terms of their sacred cows -- tax giveaways for special interests” and “excessive deductions for the wealthiest people in our country.”

McConnell said taxes were off the table. “I will not be part of any back-room deal and I will absolutely not agree to increase taxes,” McConnell said in a statement.

With neither side budging, Obama was pressed on why he couldn’t force negotiations by locking both parties in a room until a deal is struck.

“I am not a dictator; I’m the president,” Obama said. He added that if McConnell and Boehner are willing to leave town without a deal, “I can’t have Secret Service block the doorway.”

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President Barack Obama sought to personalize the consequences of imminent automatic spending cuts, warning of their effects on “individual people” in a bid to intensify voter pressure on Republicans to compromise with him on the dispute.
Friday, 01 March 2013 07:26 PM
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