Obama Calls On Congress For Short-Term Sequestration Solution

Feb 5, 2013
Originally published on February 5, 2013 5:36 pm
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Audie Cornish.

It seems like the keyword in Washington these days is deadline: debt ceiling deadlines, tax deadlines, spending cut deadlines. Well, today, President Obama called for a delay on a looming deadline: the automatic spending cuts that are set to kick in on March 1.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Our economy, right now, is headed in the right direction, and it will stay that way as long as there aren't any more self-inflicted wounds coming out of Washington.

CORNISH: Still, the president's solution is only a short-term fix. For more, we're joined from Capitol Hill by NPR congressional correspondent Tamara Keith. Tamara, first, give us the details. What is the president actually calling for?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Well, he wants Congress to replace the sequester cuts on a short-term basis - so a few months, probably - with a mix of other spending cuts and new revenue, and that new revenue would come in the form of closing tax loopholes.

You know, the problem with the sequester is that it's a blunt tool. The spending cuts would be across the board and not even remotely targeted. Here's how the president described what's at stake.

OBAMA: There is no reason that the jobs of thousands of Americans who work in national security or education or clean energy, not to mention the growth of the entire economy, should be put in jeopardy just because folks in Washington couldn't come together to eliminate a few special interest tax loopholes or government programs that we agree need some reform.

CORNISH: But did the president get into any specifics about which programs he thinks should be cut or which loopholes should be closed?

KEITH: No. The White House didn't release any further details. We don't even know exactly how long the president would like the sequester to be put off. A spokesman said that this would all need to be worked out with Congress, though there are no active talks under way right now between the White House and Congress or even really within Congress.

Some ideas that have been discussed in the past and will no doubt come back around this time are tax breaks for corporate jets or for oil companies, and House Democrats want to cut spending on direct payments to farmers. But, I mean, this is all small ball. You know, the budget will not be balanced on these things.

These would really just be some short-term fixes to allow Congress and the president more time to come up with this grand deficit reduction bargain that's been causing them problems for so long now, that ultimately would probably involve cuts to entitlements and, if the president gets his way, tax reform.

CORNISH: And, of course, the president is making this sound pretty simple and straightforward, but, of course, if it were, we wouldn't be three weeks away from this deadline. So here is what we need to know: the reaction on the Hill.

KEITH: Well, Democrats, not surprisingly, are standing by the president, though they say they'd like a longer-term fix, and House Republicans simply are not going for it at all. Tom Cole from Oklahoma, who's part of the leadership team, says the president's proposal is, his words, dead on arrival in the House because the president is calling for new revenue, and House Republicans are done with new revenue.

REPRESENTATIVE THOMAS COLE: The president got tax increases without spending cuts 45 days ago. You know, you ought to be willing to take spending cuts without tax increases today.

KEITH: Cole says that House Republicans may not like that the sequester comes with painful cuts to defense, which they support. They want defense to continue to get the money that it gets, but, you know, they'd rather have the sequester than what the president is proposing.

CORNISH: And quickly, Tamara, before I let you go. The Congressional Budget Office released numbers today, saying, for the first time in five years, the annual deficit will be under $1 trillion. Good news?

KEITH: Well, it's moving in the downward direction, and the number will be $845 billion. So it's still a very big number. And the report also said that economic growth is likely to be slow, in the 1.4 percent range, because of all these cuts that are being discussed right now.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Tamara Keith speaking with us from Capitol Hill. Tamara, thank you.

KEITH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.