Sequester blame game continues as government shutdown looms

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President Obama on Saturday called for a "caucus of common sense" to step forward and stop the sequester, which began cutting $85 billion of federal spending out of the economy on Friday.

"I know there are Republicans in Congress who would rather see tax loopholes closed than let these cuts go through," he said in his weekly address. "And I know there are Democrats who'd rather do smart entitlement reform than let these cuts go through. There's a caucus of common sense. And I'm going to keep reaching out to them to fix this for good."

The deadline to avoid the across the board cuts outright came and went on Friday evening, as Mr. Obama officially signed the sequester into effect. Both parties blamed each other for the failure to secure a deal before the deadline, and the finger-pointing continued Saturday.

The sequester "took effect because President Obama and Senate Democrats failed to act," Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash. and a member of House GOP leadership, said in the Republicans' weekly address. "In the last year, the House of Representatives has passed two proposals to replace the president's sequester with smarter spending cuts," but that the president's desire to "continue singling Americans out for tax increases" prevented Democrats from passing a "responsible plan to replace" the sequester.

"The president must stop using this debate as an excuse to raise taxes," she said, "and start seizing this opportunity to cut spending."

Mr. Obama, for his part, pinned the blame squarely on Republican obstinacy, accusing the GOP of protecting tax loopholes for the rich at the expense of middle-class families.

"None of this is necessary," the president said. "It's happening because Republicans in Congress chose this outcome over closing a single wasteful tax loophole that helps reduce the deficit. Just this week, they decided that protecting special-interest tax breaks for the well-off and well-connected is more important than protecting our military and middle-class families from these cuts."

And "while not everyone will feel the pain of these cuts right away," Mr. Obama said, "the pain will be real."

Instead of submitting to the "perpetual partisanship and brinksmanship," the president suggested, "we can and must replace these cuts with a balanced approach" that combines targeted spending cuts with entitlement reform and closes tax loopholes.

"This is America," he said, "and in America, we don't careen from one manufactured crisis to another. We make smart choices."

Bipartisan leaders from the House and Senate met with President Obama at the White House Friday to continue negotiations before he officially signed the cuts into effect.

No agreement emerged, but both parties forged on, already looking ahead to the next fiscal fight. A temporary budgetary measure funding the government expires March 27, and if the parties cannot reach an agreement on continued funding by then, the government will shut down.

Despite the potential for another bout of budgetary drama, the president and House Speaker John Boehner each signaled after their meeting on Friday that a government shutdown looks unlikely.

"With respect to the budget and keeping the government open," Mr. Obama said, "what's called the continuing resolution, which is essentially just an extension of last year's budget into this year's budget to make sure those basic government functions continue - I think that's the right thing to do to make sure that we don't have a government shutdown. And that's preventable."

Boehner said, "The House is going to move a continuing resolution next week to fund the government past March 27th, and I'm hopeful that we won't have to deal with the threat of a government shutdown while we're dealing with the sequester at the same time. The House will act next week, and I hope the Senate will follow suit."

  • Jake Miller

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