President asks for second sequester delay

Carolyn Kaster/AP

This story has been updated throughout.

President Obama on Tuesday urged lawmakers to again delay the automatic, governmentwide spending cuts before they take effect on March 1.

Congress should pass a short-term package that includes spending cuts and tax reforms to postpone sequestration for a few months if they cannot agree on a longer-term deficit reduction plan by the March 1 deadline, Obama said during a White House press conference.

“This doesn’t have to happen,” Obama said of the looming across-the-board cuts. He acknowledged that Congress might not be able to put together a full budget by March 1, and so should craft a short-term measure that gives lawmakers time to agree on a bigger deal and protects the economy from indiscriminate spending cuts in the meantime.

“If Congress can’t act immediately on a bigger package, if they can't get a bigger package done by the time the sequester is scheduled to go into effect, then I believe that they should at least pass a smaller package of spending cuts and tax reforms that would delay the economically damaging effects of the sequester for a few more months until Congress finds a way to replace these cuts with a smarter solution,” said Obama.

The president and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney both emphasized that the administration is looking for a combination of decreased spending and increased revenues in any deal Congress passes -- short- and long-term.

“I think a balanced mix of spending cuts and tax reform is the best way to finish the task of deficit reduction,” Obama said. Carney reiterated that point during his briefing with reporters. “The principle of balance applies in all things,” Carney said, in response to a question over what kind of short-term package Obama favored.

Congress would need to find about $85 billion in savings to put off the automatic spending cuts through the end of fiscal 2013.

Obama’s remarks seemed only to strengthen the current stalemate between the White House and many GOP lawmakers on the proper equation of spending cuts and revenue increases in deficit reduction. “We welcome President Obama to the table, perhaps better late than never,” said Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., and Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., in a joint statement. “We are, however, concerned that his proposal will include the same mix of tax increases and defense cuts that Democrats have advocated for in the past. We must be clear. This approach is neither responsible nor balanced.” McKeon and Inhofe are the chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, respectively.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement Tuesday that Republicans “have twice voted to replace these arbitrary cuts with common-sense cuts and reforms that protect our national defense.” He also said that “Americans do not support sacrificing real spending cuts for more tax hikes.”

Obama also said Tuesday that the proposals he offered to Boehner during the fiscal cliff negotiations are “still very much on the table.” One of those reported proposals included a switch to the chained consumer price index formula to determine cost-of-living adjustments for federal retirees and Social Security beneficiaries. That formula would result in lower COLAs for retirees, including federal and military retirees, over time.

The administration on Monday missed the annual deadline to submit its budget recommendation for fiscal 2014, citing uncertainty over the fiscal cliff and sequestration as reasons for the delay. The administration’s proposal is expected sometime in March, though it’s not clear when exactly.

Congress delayed the sequester’s original Jan. 2 start date in the fiscal cliff deal approved in early January.

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