TOPICS > Politics

Despite Gloomy Urgings, No Signs of Give From Congress on Sequester

February 25, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
In a meeting with the nation's governors, President Obama urged members of congress to forget politics and get back to governing to prevent automatic spending cuts. Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times and Margaret Talev of Bloomberg News talk with Judy Woodruff about the effects of the sequester and how it may get resolved.
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RAY SUAREZ: President Obama and congressional Republicans traded barbs today, opening the final week before the looming sequester. But there was no outward sign of a breakthrough to prevent $85 billion dollars in automatic spending reductions.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: These cuts do not have to happen. Congress can turn them off any time with just a little bit of compromise.

RAY SUAREZ: The president’s appeal came as he met with the nation’s governors at the White House amid growing indications that the sequester will indeed take effect.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: This town has to get past its obsession with focusing on the next election, instead of the next generation. All of us are elected officials. All of us are concerned about our politics, both in our own parties, as well as the other parties. But at some point, we have got to do some governing. And certainly what we can’t do is keep careening from manufactured crisis to manufactured crisis.

RAY SUAREZ: To reinforce the point, the administration on Sunday spelled out how each state will be affected, from job losses for teachers to cuts in defense spending.

After today’s meeting, governors largely divided down party lines in voicing their frustration. Democrats, including Gov. Dannel Malloy of Connecticut, tended to blame Congress.

GOV. DANNEL MALLOY, D-Conn.: They need to get out of that box that sits under the dome and understand that this has real implications in people’s lives, and they should stop playing around with it and get the job done. And, by the way, they should compromise to get the job done.

RAY SUAREZ: While Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and his fellow Republicans pointed to the president.

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL, R-La.: Enough is enough. Now is the time to cut spending. It can be done without jeopardizing the economy. It can be done without jeopardizing critical services. The president needs to stop campaigning, stop trying to scare the American people, stop trying to scare states.

RAY SUAREZ: President Obama did acknowledge today the effects of the spending cuts may not be felt immediately.

But one very noticeable effect could come at the nation’s airports, where travelers may see major flight delays if airport workers are furloughed.

Meanwhile, Congress returned from a weeklong recess with little visible progress. Democrats backed the president’s plan to forestall the sequester by coupling smaller spending cuts with increases in revenue. Republicans insisted they already agreed to some tax increases and cannot support any plan that raises taxes now.

House Speaker John Boehner spoke late this afternoon.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: It’s time to cut spending here in Washington. Instead of using our military men and women as campaign props, if the president was serious, he would sit down with Harry Reid and begin to address our problems. The House has acted twice. We shouldn’t have to act a third time before the Senate begins to do their work.

RAY SUAREZ: And as the deadline ticked one day closer, the president planned to visit a Virginia shipyard tomorrow to highlight again how the cuts could harm the U.S. military and civilian defense workers.

JUDY WOODRUFF: To help us better understand the political strategy at the White House and on Capitol Hill, we turn to two journalists closely following the developments.

Jonathan Weisman of The New York Times covers Congress, and Margaret Talev covers the White House for Bloomberg News.

And we welcome you both to the NewsHour.

Margaret, to you first. For days, the White House has been raising the specter of terrible things that are going to happen, slowing air travel, people being laid off their jobs, furloughs, border security problems. Now that they see the Republicans aren’t moving, what do they think about this approach?

MARGARET TALEV, Bloomberg News: They think it’s a very good political approach. And they will continue to use it right up until March the 1st.

The White House has been prepared for Mar. the 1st to come and go and nothing to happen and the sequester to take effect. And a part of what they’re doing is a campaign to pressure Republicans to get them to act, but the other part of what they’re doing is a campaign to position themselves as the ones trying to get this done and Republicans as the ones standing in the way. And those efforts will continue.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you’re saying they’re not surprised that the Republicans aren’t caving?

MARGARET TALEV: They are not surprised that the Republicans are not caving.

And the timeline as we can now emerging has a lot more to do with Mar. 27th, the deadline for the continuing resolution on the budget, than Mar. 1st.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And so, on that point, I mean, Jonathan Weisman, the Republicans, no sign of any give between now and Friday. Is that correct?

JONATHAN WEISMAN, The New York Times: Absolutely. They are not going to give.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And so they keep hearing this sort of daily, shall we say, list of crises that are going to happen from the White House. How are they responding to that?

JONATHAN WEISMAN: Well, we’re going to see legislation probably emerge tomorrow in the Senate from Republicans that would give — that would give the White House and the administration more latitude to administer these cuts, to mete them out, because right now that $85 billion dollars would have to be cut program by program.

If you’re a program that is not exempted in the 2011 law, the Budget Control Act, you have to take a slice. And that’s why the president can go out there and say air traffic controllers are going to be hit, Border Patrol agents are going to be hit. The Republicans would like to present legislation that says, look, the Department of Transportation doesn’t have to cut air traffic controllers. They can cut some administrative parts, some other thing that is less vital to the nation’s body.

And that is going to divide Democrats because you already see some Democrats who are willing to give that kind of latitude. But you also see Republicans who do not want to give that kind of latitude because it’s basically ceding authority to the White House.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Are that’s what I want to ask you both about. Are the parties — are they united on this? What’s the White House, what are Democrats going to do if the Republicans try to do that?

MARGARET TALEV: Well, there are issues that sort of cleave both sides. Right?

And for the Republicans, it is many of the Republican House districts that are going to be the most affected by the sequester. Nothing is going to happen after for a week or two weeks or three weeks, but after a month or two or three or six, ship building areas or defense contractors, these are places where the military and other programs that will be affected by the long-term effects of the sequester will take effect.

There will be Republicans who shorter in the game than other Republicans will say, all right, come on. Let’s cut a deal here. And then the flip side, on the Democratic side, there are going to be Democrats, particularly in those kinds of swing districts, who are going to say, OK, enough on the tax increases. Let’s — we need to give a little bit more on the spending cuts.

So, on both sides, you do see the potential for these rifts, for these fissures. But, for right now, it is — it does appear to be a game of chicken in terms of how bad are the effects going to be and how quickly will they be felt?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Jonathan Weisman, Republican leadership, how prepared are they to deal with any division in their ranks? We already know that some Republicans are more comfortable with these cuts than others who believe they’re perfectly fine, apparently.

JONATHAN WEISMAN: Right. Right.

We have really seen highlighted the emergence of a majority of Republicans that are much more concerned with the fiscal picture and the size and scope of government, the spending side, than what we used to see, which was a very large group of Republicans, a majority, that were most concerned with national defense and would protect the defense budget over everything.

The president expected that that national defense wing was going to ultimately prevail and stop these cuts from happening, bring their party to the table. That has not happened. I don’t think the Republicans in — the Senate may actually begin to splinter. The House is really dug in right now. They feel like they gave at the fiscal cliff. They let taxes rise.

And now, as one congressman told me, we have gotten to the high ground. The muskets are all pointing out. You want to come and take the hill, give it a shot.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, does the White House feel the Republicans have the high ground here, Margaret?

MARGARET TALEV: The White House feels that the Republicans are going to want a couple of weeks to kind of make their points and protest.

At this point, the White House still sees some resolution that reins in the impacts of the sequester over X-period of time.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do they have a strategy for how this is going to spool out over the next few weeks?

MARGARET TALEV: I don’t know what the strategy is after Mar. 27th. If there is, one no one has spelled it out to me. But …

JUDY WOODRUFF: And this is when the next decisions have to be made.

MARGARET TALEV: But for the Republicans — from the White House’s perspective, not only will the sequester effects be felt more the longer it would go on, right, but because the time overlaps so closely to this continuing budget plan, for the Republicans, the specter of a government shutdown is a lot more politically painful, broad-based, right, Congress-wide, for all of them, than the impacts of the sequester.

JONATHAN WEISMAN: Yes.

And I think that that’s why the Mar. 27th deadline is probably less of a big deal than we think. Republicans in the House want to move forward beyond that. They’re going to move legislation probably next week to just get past that. Now, the Senate Democrats might dig in and say, we are not going to pass legislation to keep the government functioning past Mar. 27th unless you do something about the sequester.

But from what I understand, unless there is a huge hue and cry out there from the American people, they’re going to let that pass. They’re going to also pass legislation to keep the government open. I actually don’t think Mar. 27th is going to be a big deal because I will tell you the first furloughs, the first layoffs that we’re going to see on these sequesters really won’t hit until April.

You’re not going to see really angry American voters probably until past that Mar. 27th deadline.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we’re all on the edge of our seats watching to see what happens. And both of you are going to be watching it with us.

Thank you very much, Jonathan Weisman, Margaret Talev.

MARGARET TALEV: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you.RAY SUAREZ: President Obama and congressional Republicans traded barbs today, opening the final week before the looming sequester. But there was no outward sign of a breakthrough to prevent $85 billion dollars in automatic spending reductions.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: These cuts do not have to happen. Congress can turn them off any time with just a little bit of compromise.

RAY SUAREZ: The president’s appeal came as he met with the nation’s governors at the White House amid growing indications that the sequester will indeed take effect.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: This town has to get past its obsession with focusing on the next election, instead of the next generation. All of us are elected officials. All of us are concerned about our politics, both in our own parties, as well as the other parties. But at some point, we have got to do some governing. And certainly what we can’t do is keep careening from manufactured crisis to manufactured crisis.

RAY SUAREZ: To reinforce the point, the administration on Sunday spelled out how each state will be affected, from job losses for teachers to cuts in defense spending.

After today’s meeting, governors largely divided down party lines in voicing their frustration. Democrats, including Gov. Dannel Malloy of Connecticut, tended to blame Congress.

GOV. DANNEL MALLOY, D-Conn.: They need to get out of that box that sits under the dome and understand that this has real implications in people’s lives, and they should stop playing around with it and get the job done. And, by the way, they should compromise to get the job done.

RAY SUAREZ: While Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and his fellow Republicans pointed to the president.

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL, R-La.: Enough is enough. Now is the time to cut spending. It can be done without jeopardizing the economy. It can be done without jeopardizing critical services. The president needs to stop campaigning, stop trying to scare the American people, stop trying to scare states.

RAY SUAREZ: President Obama did acknowledge today the effects of the spending cuts may not be felt immediately.

But one very noticeable effect could come at the nation’s airports, where travelers may see major flight delays if airport workers are furloughed.

Meanwhile, Congress returned from a weeklong recess with little visible progress. Democrats backed the president’s plan to forestall the sequester by coupling smaller spending cuts with increases in revenue. Republicans insisted they already agreed to some tax increases and cannot support any plan that raises taxes now.

House Speaker John Boehner spoke late this afternoon.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: It’s time to cut spending here in Washington. Instead of using our military men and women as campaign props, if the president was serious, he would sit down with Harry Reid and begin to address our problems. The House has acted twice. We shouldn’t have to act a third time before the Senate begins to do their work.

RAY SUAREZ: And as the deadline ticked one day closer, the president planned to visit a Virginia shipyard tomorrow to highlight again how the cuts could harm the U.S. military and civilian defense workers.

JUDY WOODRUFF: To help us better understand the political strategy at the White House and on Capitol Hill, we turn to two journalists closely following the developments.

Jonathan Weisman of The New York Times covers Congress, and Margaret Talev covers the White House for Bloomberg News.

And we welcome you both to the NewsHour.

Margaret, to you first. For days, the White House has been raising the specter of terrible things that are going to happen, slowing air travel, people being laid off their jobs, furloughs, border security problems. Now that they see the Republicans aren’t moving, what do they think about this approach?

MARGARET TALEV, Bloomberg News: They think it’s a very good political approach. And they will continue to use it right up until March the 1st.

The White House has been prepared for Mar. the 1st to come and go and nothing to happen and the sequester to take effect. And a part of what they’re doing is a campaign to pressure Republicans to get them to act, but the other part of what they’re doing is a campaign to position themselves as the ones trying to get this done and Republicans as the ones standing in the way. And those efforts will continue.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you’re saying they’re not surprised that the Republicans aren’t caving?

MARGARET TALEV: They are not surprised that the Republicans are not caving.

And the timeline as we can now emerging has a lot more to do with Mar. 27th, the deadline for the continuing resolution on the budget, than Mar. 1st.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And so, on that point, I mean, Jonathan Weisman, the Republicans, no sign of any give between now and Friday. Is that correct?

JONATHAN WEISMAN, The New York Times: Absolutely. They are not going to give.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And so they keep hearing this sort of daily, shall we say, list of crises that are going to happen from the White House. How are they responding to that?

JONATHAN WEISMAN: Well, we’re going to see legislation probably emerge tomorrow in the Senate from Republicans that would give — that would give the White House and the administration more latitude to administer these cuts, to mete them out, because right now that $85 billion dollars would have to be cut program by program.

If you’re a program that is not exempted in the 2011 law, the Budget Control Act, you have to take a slice. And that’s why the president can go out there and say air traffic controllers are going to be hit, Border Patrol agents are going to be hit. The Republicans would like to present legislation that says, look, the Department of Transportation doesn’t have to cut air traffic controllers. They can cut some administrative parts, some other thing that is less vital to the nation’s body.

And that is going to divide Democrats because you already see some Democrats who are willing to give that kind of latitude. But you also see Republicans who do not want to give that kind of latitude because it’s basically ceding authority to the White House.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Are that’s what I want to ask you both about. Are the parties — are they united on this? What’s the White House, what are Democrats going to do if the Republicans try to do that?

MARGARET TALEV: Well, there are issues that sort of cleave both sides. Right?

And for the Republicans, it is many of the Republican House districts that are going to be the most affected by the sequester. Nothing is going to happen after for a week or two weeks or three weeks, but after a month or two or three or six, ship building areas or defense contractors, these are places where the military and other programs that will be affected by the long-term effects of the sequester will take effect.

There will be Republicans who shorter in the game than other Republicans will say, all right, come on. Let’s cut a deal here. And then the flip side, on the Democratic side, there are going to be Democrats, particularly in those kinds of swing districts, who are going to say, OK, enough on the tax increases. Let’s — we need to give a little bit more on the spending cuts.

So, on both sides, you do see the potential for these rifts, for these fissures. But, for right now, it is — it does appear to be a game of chicken in terms of how bad are the effects going to be and how quickly will they be felt?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Jonathan Weisman, Republican leadership, how prepared are they to deal with any division in their ranks? We already know that some Republicans are more comfortable with these cuts than others who believe they’re perfectly fine, apparently.

JONATHAN WEISMAN: Right. Right.

We have really seen highlighted the emergence of a majority of Republicans that are much more concerned with the fiscal picture and the size and scope of government, the spending side, than what we used to see, which was a very large group of Republicans, a majority, that were most concerned with national defense and would protect the defense budget over everything.

The president expected that that national defense wing was going to ultimately prevail and stop these cuts from happening, bring their party to the table. That has not happened. I don’t think the Republicans in — the Senate may actually begin to splinter. The House is really dug in right now. They feel like they gave at the fiscal cliff. They let taxes rise.

And now, as one congressman told me, we have gotten to the high ground. The muskets are all pointing out. You want to come and take the hill, give it a shot.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, does the White House feel the Republicans have the high ground here, Margaret?

MARGARET TALEV: The White House feels that the Republicans are going to want a couple of weeks to kind of make their points and protest.

At this point, the White House still sees some resolution that reins in the impacts of the sequester over X-period of time.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do they have a strategy for how this is going to spool out over the next few weeks?

MARGARET TALEV: I don’t know what the strategy is after Mar. 27th. If there is, one no one has spelled it out to me. But …

JUDY WOODRUFF: And this is when the next decisions have to be made.

MARGARET TALEV: But for the Republicans — from the White House’s perspective, not only will the sequester effects be felt more the longer it would go on, right, but because the time overlaps so closely to this continuing budget plan, for the Republicans, the specter of a government shutdown is a lot more politically painful, broad-based, right, Congress-wide, for all of them, than the impacts of the sequester.

JONATHAN WEISMAN: Yes.

And I think that that’s why the Mar. 27th deadline is probably less of a big deal than we think. Republicans in the House want to move forward beyond that. They’re going to move legislation probably next week to just get past that. Now, the Senate Democrats might dig in and say, we are not going to pass legislation to keep the government functioning past Mar. 27th unless you do something about the sequester.

But from what I understand, unless there is a huge hue and cry out there from the American people, they’re going to let that pass. They’re going to also pass legislation to keep the government open. I actually don’t think Mar. 27th is going to be a big deal because I will tell you the first furloughs, the first layoffs that we’re going to see on these sequesters really won’t hit until April.

You’re not going to see really angry American voters probably until past that Mar. 27th deadline.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we’re all on the edge of our seats watching to see what happens. And both of you are going to be watching it with us.

Thank you very much, Jonathan Weisman, Margaret Talev.

MARGARET TALEV: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you.