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WASHINGTON — US President Barack Obama acknowledged Tuesday that political factors are complicating efforts to garner enough Republican votes to pass broad fiscal legislation that would void more military cuts.
Because conservative Republicans, mostly in the House, are concerned about angering their equally conservative constituents, Obama signaled that to replace the sequestration will involve “creating some permission structures” for some Republican lawmakers.
“I cannot force Republicans to embrace those commonsense proposals,” Obama said during a press briefing at the White House on the 100th day of his second term. He was referring to his own proposal to replace the remaining nine years of twin $500 billion decade-spanning cuts to planned defense and domestic spending.
“Their [voter] base thinks compromise with me is, somehow, a betrayal,” the president said, sounding more like a political consultant. “They’re worried about primaries, I understand that. We’re working to create some permission structures to help them do that. But it’s going to take some time.”
The permission structures indicate the White House has concluded it lacks enough GOP votes to pass the kind of sweeping “grand bargain” fiscal measure that would replace the defense and domestic cuts with other deficit-reduction items.
Obama is proposing doing so with more federal cuts, including a smaller amount of defense cuts, which would not kick in until he has left office, along with new tax hikes on the wealthiest Americans and other steps.
Conservative Republican lawmakers say they are open to replacing the across-the-board sequestration cuts, but only by enacting an equal number of other federal spending cuts.
The president, who has been widely criticized for an inability to negotiate with Congress, struck a downtrodden tone about the odds of passing a grand bargain.
“Whether we can get it done or not, we’ll see,” Obama told reporters.
Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, one of more than a dozen Senate Republicans whom Obama has been courting about a grand bargain, told Defense News in late March that the political window for passing a big fiscal bill is early August.
The president said he and other White House officials warned before the sequester cuts kicked in March 1 that they would slow a still-slow economy.
On Tuesday, he said the cuts already are “hurting the economy and damaging our people.”
“The only way [Washington] will lift it is to pass a bigger deal that lowers our deficit,” Obama said. “That will require sacrifices from both Republicans and Democrats.”
He added that he senses a “genuine desire on both sides to move beyond” sequestration and general “Washington dysfunction.”
But several GOP sources have said in recent weeks that Republican lawmakers, especially congressional GOP leaders, view each Obama proposal skeptically. That’s because Obama and his aides privately have dangled more grand bargain carrots that are acceptable to Republicans than in public proposals, the sources say.
Senate Republicans and Democrats say they continue to talk to one another across the aisle about crafting a sequester-replacing “grand bargain” bill in coming months.
However, senior House Republicans say there is little happening in the lower chamber.
“There is nothing happening,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., told reporters last Friday. “The president has to engage.”