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Obama Tries To Build Public Pressure On Congress Over Looming Budget Cuts

Feb 26, 2013
Originally published on February 26, 2013 7:05 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. Tick-tock goes the sequester clock. Three more days until automatic across-the-board spending cuts kick in. And today, President Obama was once again on the road trying to build public pressure on Congress to delay or replace the cuts. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson begins our coverage.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Today, President Obama travelled to the Newport News shipyard, the largest manufacturer in the state of Virginia, where, standing in front of a giant propeller, he warned of, quote, "the immediate, painful, arbitrary budget cuts known as the sequester."

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Instead of cutting out the government spending we don't need, wasteful programs that don't work, special interest tax loopholes and tax breaks, what the sequester does is it uses a meat cleaver approach to gut critical investments in things like education and national security and life-saving medical research.

And the impact of this policy won't be felt overnight, but it will be real.

LIASSON: The president wants to make sure that when and if the cuts are eventually felt, Americans blame the Republicans. He's trying to force the GOP to the negotiating table to accept a deficit reduction plan that includes revenue hikes along with spending cuts. A few Republicans seem ready and the president singled one of them out today.

OBAMA: Yeah, I've got to give Scott Rigell credit, you know. He's one of your Republican congressmen who's with us here today and that's not always healthy for a Republican, being with me. But the reason he's doing it is because he knows it's important to you and he's asked his colleagues in the House to consider closing tax loopholes instead of letting these automatic cuts go through.

LIASSON: Rigell was first elected in 2010 and his district hugs the coastline of Virginia. The White House is assuming others affected by the cuts will eventually break ranks and agree to close tax loopholes in place of the sequester cuts. That's what happened two months ago in the fight over the debt ceiling and the fiscal cliff. But it hasn't happened yet, as the president noted today while he lacerated his opposition.

OBAMA: But I just have to be honest with you. There are too many Republicans in Congress right now who refuse to compromise even an inch when it comes to closing tax loopholes and special interest tax breaks. And that's what's holding things up right now.

LIASSON: We're not talking about raising income tax rates, the president said, all we want to do is close loopholes, like tax breaks for hedge fund managers and corporate jet owners. And for his part, the president said through his spokesman, he's willing to reduce Medicare for the affluent and make other cost savings in entitlements.

OBAMA: Democrats like me, we said we're prepared to make some tough cuts and reforms, including to programs like Medicare. But if we're willing to compromise, then Republicans in the House have to compromise as well. That's what democracy's about. That's what this country needs right now.

LIASSON: But right now, there's no talk of compromise. There aren't even any talks. Instead, the latest idea from Republicans on Capitol Hill is to pass a bill that would turn over to the president the authority to apply the spending cuts as he sees fit. So it looks like the sequester will go into effect. How long the cuts stay in effect will depend on how painful they really prove to be and whether that pain gets relayed back to Washington. Mara Liasson, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.