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Last Minute White House Meeting on Sequester Spurs Political Combat Not Progress

March 1, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
With no sequester deal achieved, $85 billion dollars in spending cuts are poised to take effect. Judy Woodruff reports on the response from the White House and congressional leaders, as well as what the cuts will mean for the coming weeks.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The final hours ticked down today to the much-talked about sequester, $85 billion dollars in automatic across-the-board federal spending cuts. A White House meeting produced little, except a new round of political combat.

The top two Democrats in Congress trooped to the executive mansion this morning, along with the top two Republicans. But the hour-long session with the president produced no breakthroughs. And minutes later, he appeared in the White House Briefing Room, making clear what he thinks of the sequester.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We shouldn’t be making a series of dumb arbitrary cuts to things that businesses depend on and workers depend on, like education and research and infrastructure and defense.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The president was also adamant on where the blame lies, with those who balked at erasing tax loopholes for the wealthy and other revenue-raisers.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: None of this is necessary. It’s happening because a choice that Republicans in Congress have made. They have allowed these cuts to happen because they refuse to budge on closing a single wasteful loophole to help reduce the deficit.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But Republicans were having none of it. Shortly before the president emerged, House Speaker John Boehner again rejected the demand for more taxes.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: The president got his tax hikes on January 1. This discussion about revenue, in my view, is over. It’s about taking on the spending problem here in Washington.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The president now has until just before midnight to issue an order that makes the cuts official. It will be weeks before many of the effects are felt. But within days, federal agencies will start sending out notices that hiring freezes and furloughs are coming.

In addition, the Associated Press reported 2,000 illegal immigrants in detention were released in recent weeks to save money on jail costs. The administration had said the number was a few hundred. And newly installed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said today the military is implementing the largest cuts in nearly 30 years.

DEFENSE SECRETARY CHUCK HAGEL, United States: Let me make it clear that this uncertainty puts at risk our ability to effectively fulfill all of our missions.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Army has curtailed training for nearly 80 percent of combat brigades. And, in Norfolk, Va., home to the Navy’s Atlantic Fleet, the aircraft carrier Harry Truman sits idle. It was to have sailed for the Persian Gulf last month.

Back at the White House today, the president voiced frustration at suggestions he should have done more to prevent all this.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Most people agree I’m presenting a fair deal. The fact that they don’t take it means that I should somehow, you know, do a Jedi mind meld with these folks and convince them to do what’s right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: One thing both sides did seem to agree on, the need for a stopgap bill to keep the government running past March 27, when it runs out of funds.

JOHN BOEHNER: And I’m hopeful that we won’t have to deal with the threat of a government shutdown while we’re dealing with the sequester at the same time. The House will act next week, and I hope the Senate will follow suit. Thanks.

JUDY WOODRUFF: House members and senators are due to return to Washington Monday.