Obama, Republicans face off as sequester looms


SAN FRANCISCO — President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans stuck to their guns Saturday, clashing over who will be responsible if automatic federal spending cuts go into effect on Friday.

The sequester, which originally was meant to occur on Jan. 1 before it was pushed out to March 1, comprises up to $85 billion in automatic spending cuts this year.

In his weekly address, Obama said it’s up to Republicans in Congress to avoid the sequester “with just a little compromise” by passing a balanced plan for deficit reduction. The Senate is set to consider bills that would avoid the cuts on Tuesday or Wednesday, according to a spokesman for Majority Whip Dick Durbin.

“Once these cuts take effect, thousands of teachers and educators will be laid off, and tens of thousands of parents will have to scramble to find child care for their kids,” Obama said in his address.

“Air-traffic controllers and airport security will see cutbacks, causing delays across the country. Even President Bush’s director of the National Institutes of Health (Elias Zerhouni) says these cuts will set back medical science for a generation,” he said.

On Friday, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the sequester would cause delays of up to 90 minutes at major U.S. airports if it goes into effect.

Obama also said the threat of the cuts has caused the U.S. Navy to delay deployment of an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf, and the Pentagon is prepared to furlough up to 800,000 defense employees if the cuts occur.

In the GOP’s response, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., placed the blame for the coming sequester on the president, saying House Republicans have already passed two bills to replace the sequester.

Hoeven said “The Price of Politics,” a book by Washington Post Associate Editor Bob Woodward that was published in September, “sets the record straight.”

“Woodward says it was President Obama who proposed and promoted the sequester,” Hoeven said. “The fact is Republicans in Congress right now will provide the flexibility to make the necessary spending reductions and address our deficit and debt, instead of going through the sequester.”

Hoeven said Obama doesn’t want to work with Republicans on the sequester because he wants higher taxes more than job creation, expanding the economy and expanding the tax base. Hoeven used Obama’s delayed decision on the Keystone XL pipeline as a prime example of what he said was the president’s reluctance to spur economic growth.

The pipeline, which is intended to deliver tar-sands-derived crude oil from Canada to U.S. refineries, has become a political balancing act for the Obama administration between environmental and energy interests.