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As Deadline Nears, Sequester Blame Game Rages on Hill

Feb. 25, 2013 - 05:22PM   |  
By JOHN T. BENNETT   |   Comments
House Speaker John Boehner speaks as other Republican House members listen during a media availability Feb. 25 on Capitol Hill.
House Speaker John Boehner speaks as other Republican House members listen during a media availability Feb. 25 on Capitol Hill. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)
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WASHINGTON — U.S. House Republican leaders on Monday blasted President Barack Obama’s plans to visit a southeastern Virginia naval shipyard instead of leading talks to avoid pending defense cuts, with one charging the commander in chief with using troops as “campaign props.”

There was no visible movement on Capitol Hill as the final week began before a Friday deadline to find a way to void scheduled $500 billion cuts to planned defense and domestic spending over a decade. But there was plenty of movement toward microphones and social media accounts to hammer the other political party.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., criticized Obama’s plans to travel Tuesday to Huntington Ingalls-owned Newport News Shipbuilding for an event about the effects of the pending cuts. Rather than traversing the 181 miles from the White House to the shipyard, McMorris Rodgers said Obama instead should travel the “mile and a half” down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington to meet with lawmakers about striking a deal to avoid the cuts.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, went one step further, saying Obama has been using U.S. military personnel “as campaign props” at events that seem to Republicans more like political rallies than serious events focused on the real-world effects of the cuts.

During a late-afternoon press conference, Boehner also said if Obama genuinely wanted to avoid the across-the-board, non-prioritized spending reductions, “he’d sit down with [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid,” D-Nev., and come up with the kind of $1 trillion deficit-reduction package needed to void the twin cuts.

The White House and congressional Democrats are quick to rebut such rhetoric. They believe any such package should include additional federal spending cuts, some entitlement program reforms and new tax revenue.

Republicans reject the idea that taxes can again be increased. With neither side budging on this point, it appears the defense cuts will be triggered Friday — they would not go into effect until March 27, giving lawmaker 26 days to reach an agreement to again delay them or permanently replace them.

“Mr. President, you got your tax increase,” Boehner said pointedly about tax hikes on the wealthiest Americans that were included in the January “fiscal cliff” deal reached by Vice President Joseph Biden and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnel, R-Ky.

The No. 2 House Republican, Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, noted the House last session passed two sequester-avoiding bills. Neither was passed by the Senate, however, due to the tax-hike sticking point; neither House measure contained one cent of the new revenues that Senate Democrats want.

In a notable remark, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the third-ranking House GOP member, told reporters that the remaining $85 billion that the sequester cuts would trim from planned federal spending in fiscal 2013 equals “what we borrow in one month.”

Each Republican leader who spoke at the brief press conference made clear they believe Washington has, as they say, “a spending problem.”

Cantor called the mix of tax revenue, spending cuts and entitlement reforms Obama has proposed to turn off the sequester cuts “a false choice.”

The GOP leadership presser followed several hours during which House Republicans and Democrats engaged in a rhetorical back-and-forth about the sequester standoff. But not on the House floor. On Twitter.

“House #GOP isn’t even hiding fact that they won’t try to replace sequester cuts,” a Twitter account registered to House Ways and Means Committee Democrats wrote about an hour before the Republicans spoke. “Have only 3 bills on floor all week after 9 days off.”

There was this from Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the second-ranking Democrat in the House: “As warnings continue to mount, GOP continue to reject compromise & instead support the irrational sequester.” The minority whip was referring to some in the lower chamber’s GOP caucus who have said they would rather take the defense cuts than raise one more penny in tax revenue.

Before those two Twitter broadsides, this from Boehner as the sequester deadline is only four days away: “Moving the goalposts becomes common [White House] practice.”

And following the press briefing, McCarthy tweeted a line he used during the event: “Americans need more than a ‘road show’ President.”

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