Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Obama On Sequestration: I Can't Order Congressional Republicans To Behave

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama on Tuesday chastised Congress -- mainly Republicans -- for moving quickly to end flight delays caused by sequestration while leaving the other major consequences of the sweeping budget cuts unaddressed.

Still, the president said he would not veto the short-term fix for those delays, which will give the Department of Transportation the authority to take money designed for airport repair and use it to end the furloughs of Federal Aviation Administration employees.

"Frankly, I don't think that if I were to veto, for example, this FAA bill, that that will somehow lead to the broader fix," Obama said. "It would just mean there is pain now, which they will try to blame on me, as opposed to pain five years from now. But either way the problem is not getting fixed."

Speaking at a press conference in the White House briefing room, the president said that the one way to effectively deal with the impact of sequestration was for both parties to come together on a bigger deal to replace it.

But while he said that he had had conversations with Republican lawmakers that left him more optimistic about such a deal taking place, he also acknowledged that his powers of political persuasion were limited.

"You seem to suggest that somehow these folks over there have no responsibilities and that my job is to somehow get them to behave," the president told ABC's Jonathan Karl, who had asked whether he had any presidential "juice" left in the tank.

"That's their job. They're elected. Members of Congress are elected in order to do what's right for their constituencies and the American people," he said. "So, if in fact they are seriously concerned about passenger convenience and safety, then they shouldn't just be thinking about tomorrow or next week ... they should be thinking about what is going to happen five years from now, 10 years from now, or 15 years from now. The only way to do that is for them to engage with me on coming up with a broader deal and that's exactly what I'm trying to do."

Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill have bemoaned the fact that Congress passed an FAA fix while leaving cuts to Head Start, Meals on Wheels and scientific research grants in place. They have warned that the piecemeal approach doesn't help their efforts to find a broader replacement package. Instead, it encourages Republicans to continue to complain loudly about those budget cuts they don't like, in hopes that they will generate enough pressure to get their colleagues to act.

"I've had some good conversations with Republican senators so far," said Obama. "Those conversations are continuing. I think there is a genuine desire on many of their parts to move past not only the sequester, but Washington dysfunction. Whether we can get it done or not, we will see."


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