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Obama's Road-Show to Address Upcoming Sequester

February 20th 2013

Obama with baseball bat

Continuing to hunt for a political advantage in the fight over the looming sequester, President Obama on Wednesday will conduct interviews with eight local television stations in an attempt to intensify pressure on congressional Republicans.

The interviews come just a day after Obama warned the $85 billion in automatic cuts would take a "meat cleaver" to the country's economy and military readiness. "By speaking to anchors from stations around the country, the president will have an opportunity to focus on the harmful local impacts that will be felt if congressional Republicans refuse to compromise," a White House official said.

Republicans have slammed Obama's approach in recent days, arguing the president is attempting to point fingers rather than identify cuts that could offset the blunt, across-the-board impact of the sequester.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday argued that "more than three months after the November election, President Obama still prefers campaign events to common-sense, bipartisan action.”

"Surely the President won’t cut funds to first responders when just last year Washington handed out an estimated $115 billion in payments to individuals who weren’t even eligible to receive them, or at a time when 11 different government agencies are funding 90 different green energy programs,” McConnell said in a statement. “That would be a terrible and entirely unnecessary choice by a President who claims to want bipartisan reform.”

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) echoed that criticism while taking care to note that the White House had originally suggested the idea of the sequester during the debt ceiling negotiations.

“Washington Democrats’ newfound concern about the president’s sequester is appreciated, but words alone won’t avert it,” Boehner said in a statement. “Replacing the president’s sequester will require a plan to cut spending that will put us on the path to a budget that is balanced in 10 years.”

Democrats, meanwhile, charge that Republicans are unwilling to come off their demand for a sequester replacement composed solely of spending cuts.

"Republicans in Congress face a simple choice: Are they willing to compromise to protect vital investments in education and health care and national security and all the jobs that depend on them? Or would they rather put hundreds of thousands of jobs and our entire economy at risk just to protect a few special interest tax loopholes that benefit only the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations?" Obama said Tuesday.

The intensifying blame game is evidence that both sides are bracing for the sequester to hit — and believe they hold the political advantage. Republicans think that voters will blame Washington dysfunction on the party that controls both the White House and the upper chamber of Congress, especially after the House GOP conceded an increase in tax rates on the wealthiest taxpayers last month. Democrats, meanwhile, believe they can again depict Republicans as protecting tax breaks for the wealthy and special interests at the expense of the national good.

The president on Wednesday will also look to score points by highlighting regional infrastructure projects that would benefit views in each of the markets where he is conducting interviews.

"The president will announce a plan to cut federal review and permitting timelines for construction projects such as highways, bridges, railways, ports, waterways, pipelines, and renewable energy," the White House official said. "In talking with local anchors, he will also have the opportunity to discuss specific, important projects in their communities that stand to benefit from these initiatives."

In his State of the Union address last week, the president called for a program that would focus federal spending on urgent infrastructure repairs, with a particular emphasis placed on transit projects. Republicans, however, have cautioned that the government's current debt levels need to be brought into check before additional spending is approved.

In his rebuttal to the State of the Union, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) argued that the president too frequently depicted additional government spending as the right course. "His solution to virtually every problem we face is for Washington to tax more, borrow more and spend more," Rubio said.

Justin Sink writes for The Hill, from where this article is adapted.

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