News Column

Obama Turns to GOP as Cuts Hover

February 22, 2013

By David Jackson

President Obama took some time off from his sequester campaign Thursday to speak with his top two Republican rivals in Congress, House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Obama and GOP aides had little to say about the conversations.

White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters that Obama "had good conversations" with Boehner and McConnell, "but I have no further readout of those calls for you." McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said only that it was the first outreach from Obama to the Senate Republican leader since New Year's Eve.

The phone calls come amid an aggressive Obama campaign warning Republicans to avoid the sequestration -- $85 billion in domestic and defense cuts to kick in March 1 unless they strike a deal.

"I don't know if they're going to move," Obama said of the Republicans during a Thursday radio interview with talk show host Al Sharpton. "And that's what we're going to have to try to keep pushing over the next seven or eight days."

Obama's campaign now includes a road trip next Tuesday to the Newport News, Va., shipyards, where he again plans to argue that the sequestration includes Pentagon cuts that will weaken national security.

A House Republican from Virginia, J. Randy Forbes, said he voted against the 2011 debt-ceiling agreement that included the sequestration, while Obama signed it into law. "Now that our nation is days away from these devastating cuts, I'm pleased he is visiting our region," Forbes said. "I hope it is the first step toward working with the president to overturn the bill."

Obama has demanded that Republicans avoid the sequestration with a "balanced" plan that includes higher tax revenue as well as spending cuts. He said the higher revenue would come by ending loopholes and deductions available only to wealthy Americans.

Republicans say Obama got a tax rate increase with the "fiscal cliff" deal, and this debt agreement should involve spending cuts only.

GOP aides said the last Republican House under Boehner's leadership passed two debt-cutting plans that focused only on spending, and this House is prepared to do so again.

The Democratic-led Senate has not taken up either plan. Democrats have said the House GOP proposals would slash essential programs at the expense of the middle class.

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel suggested Obama call Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "If he wants to avert the sequester," Steel said, "shouldn't the president be focused on the house of Congress that hasn't acted, and where his own political party holds the majority?"

Source: Copyright USA TODAY 2013

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