Sequester Stalemate Leads to Salty Talk, Little Dialogue

BY Terence Burlij and Christina Bellantoni  February 27, 2013 at 8:43 AM EST


House Speaker John Boehner listens to questions during a press conference Tuesday in Washington. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Morning Line

Tuesday may have marked a new low in sequestration rhetoric, with congressional leaders trading barbs over which party is sitting on its collective keister when it comes to figuring out a way to avert the automatic spending cuts set to take effect this week.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, dropped the first fanny reference when he slammed Senate Democrats for not passing a plan despite the House having done so twice in the last Congress. “We shouldn’t have to move a third bill before the Senate gets off their ass and begins to do something,” Boehner, being blunt, told reporters.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., fired back hours later. “I think he should understand who is sitting on their posterior. We’re doing our best here to pass something. The speaker’s doing nothing to try to pass anything over there,” Reid said. “And the reason he’s not bringing up something over there is because he can’t pass it. He can’t get his caucus to agree on anything.”

And that could be the extent of productive communication in this debate.

As Politico reports, the sides aren’t talking with each other.

President Obama and Boehner haven’t spoken since Thursday, and Reid and Boehner haven’t discussed a thing since the inauguration on Jan. 21, Jake Sherman wrote.

And with two days until the $85 billion in across-the-board budget cuts kick in, most of Washington seems resigned to the lack of a solution emerging. Senate Democrats will vote Thursday on their version of a plan, which includes a tax hike for millionaires and ends oil and agriculture subsidies, among other things. Reid also will allow a vote on a GOP alternative.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters Tuesday that he would be open to a proposal that gives the president added discretion when it comes to determining how the sequester cuts are implemented, but acknowledged that not everyone in the GOP conference was on board with that approach.

“I would be happy to give the president more flexibility and allow the agency heads to apportion the reductions in a different way than the sequester envisioned,” McConnell said. “There are some members of our conference who are suspicious that the administration would take advantage of such flexibility would seek to punish their political enemies.”

“There are different opinions about that. We’re continuing to discuss all of this within our conference and we’ll let you know when we decide what we’re going to offer,” McConnell added.

For his part, the president dismissed the idea of lawmakers providing him greater flexibility in making reductions during a visit to a Virginia shipbuilder on Tuesday.

“The problem is when you’re cutting $85 billion in seven months, which represents over a 10 percent cut in the defense budget in seven months, there’s no smart way to do that,” Mr. Obama said. “You don’t want to have to choose between, let’s see, do I close funding for the disabled kid, or the poor kid? Do I close this Navy shipyard or some other one? When you’re doing things in a way that’s not smart, you can’t gloss over the pain and the impact it’s going to have on the economy.”

The president’s event in Newport News was exactly what Republicans have been decrying, a campaign-style pep rally that featured more cheers and happy faces than new ideas for avoiding painful cuts. And perhaps that’s because Mr. Obama knows he has public sentiment on his side.

A new NBC-Wall Street Journal poll found 52 percent of respondents view the sequester cuts as a bad idea. Just 21 percent say they are a good plan.

Half of the respondents said they preferred the president and lawmakers to work together to avoid the reductions. Forty-six percent of those surveyed said the cuts — while not ideal — should be allowed to take effect.

The survey also found Mr. Obama at a 50 percent approval rating, down from 52 percent in January. In contrast, the Republican Party was viewed favorably by just 29 percent of respondents.

Democratic pollster Fred Yang concluded, “If the president needs some tweaks and adjustments, the Republican Party is pretty much in need of a major makeover.”

The NewsHour took a broad view Tuesday night to discuss the effect the paralysis in Washington has had on public sentiment about the economy. Gwen Ifill talked with economist Nariman Behravesh.

Watch the segment here or below:


AN ORAL HISTORY

On Wednesday the Supreme Court will hear a constitutional challenge to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The landmark case asks whether the act is still necessary and whether voters still risk disenfranchisement in certain parts of the country. Ray Suarez penned this blog about how the act dramatically changed politics in the South.

The NewsHour will examine the legal arguments in a hefty segment Wednesday night, and you can follow our reporters outside the court @JSkl and @noreennasir.

We’ve also been showcasing the Voting Rights Act’s place in history by collecting stories from our viewers and readers. The first results of the project created by politics Reporter-Producer Katelyn Polantz and Social Media Editor Colleen Shalby went live Tuesday. It’s a rich tapestry of personal stories from everyday citizens across the country who witnessed discrimination or celebrated sweeping change.

Click on the image above to listen to the stories, or visit our special Voting Rights Act page here.

Christina explained the project in a piece on the NewsHour Tuesday. Watch that here or below:


And you can still share your memories. Use the button below, or call (703) 594-6PBS to tell us your story.


LINE ITEMS

  • Apple, Facebook and eBay are among the big corporations that on Wednesday plan to file an amicus brief in support of gay marriage, Fortune Magazine’s Roger Parloff reports.

  • The president met with Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham about immigration reform Tuesday, as news broke that his administration was releasing illegal immigrant detainees with no criminal records due to expected sequestration cuts. McCain and Graham sounded positive notes following the discussion, saying they appreciate what Mr. Obama said about border security. “It was one of the best meetings I’ve ever had with the president,” Graham told reporters.

  • Thanks in part to support from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s gun control political action committee, former state Rep. Robin Kelly captured 52 percent of the vote in a Democratic primary in Chicago. She is expected to defeat a to-be-determined Republican candidate in the April general election. Bloomberg, meanwhile, will meet with Vice President Biden and congressional leaders in Washington Wednesday.

  • Chuck Hagel was confirmed to be Defense Secretary 58-41, with just four Republicans voting in his favor: Sens. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Mike Johanns of Nebraska, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Richard Shelby of Alabama. “I am grateful to Chuck for reminding us that when it comes to our national defense, we are not Democrats or Republicans, we are Americans, and our greatest responsibility is the security of the American people,” Mr. Obama said in a statement after his confirmation. Dana Milbank’s column Wednesday notes that GOP senators used false information when speaking against Hagel on the floor. Watch our segment about the vote and Hagel’s challenges ahead.

  • The House will vote on the Senate-passed version of the Violence Against Women Act after all.

  • Boehner has reserved a coveted legislative spot for tax reform — H.R. 1, The Hill reports.

  • New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie became the eighth GOP governor to accept Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act — a decision seven months in the making — during a Tuesday night speech before the Democratic-controlled legislature. He unveiled a $32.9 billion budget, including $40 million for Sandy recovery.

  • The Senate Finance Committee approved Jack Lew to be Treasury secretary by a 19-5 vote on Tuesday, sending the nomination to the full Senate.

  • The Club for Growth debuted a new website Wednesday asking for help recruiting more conservative challengers to nine GOP congressional members.

  • In South Carolina’s first congressional district, Republican Teddy Turner has released a not-so-subtle ad attacking former Gov. Mark Sanford.

  • Progress Kentucky has made accusations over Twitter that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s views about trade with China have been swayed by his wife, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, whom they claim is Chinese. But she was actually born in the United States to Taiwanese immigrants.

  • Rep. Howard Coble, R-N.C., was hospitalized Tuesday.

  • The Federal Workers Alliance, a group of unions, started this message board to share anxiety about the sequester.

  • Actor Fritz Klein, who portrays Abe Lincoln, paraded around in costume on Capitol Hiill to lobby for museum funding.

  • The Ready for Hillary PAC, created on Jan. 25, has hired a communications director, with plans in the works to bring on more staff soon, BuzzFeed reports.

  • The Obama administration will come up with a response to states that legalized recreational marijuana use “soon,” Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday.

  • Chris Cillizza is still looking for the best state-based political blogs. He’s missing nominees in Alaska, Indiana, Kansas, Tennessee, West Virginia and Washington, D.C.

  • First Lady Michelle Obama is marking the third anniversary of her “Let’s Move!” initiative with a national tour, starting with an appearance in Mississippi, a state where childhood obesity rates have declined 13 percent in recent years, according to the AP. The First Lady will appear with state lawmakers and TV personality Rachael Ray to discuss nutritional changes in school lunches as well as host a cooking competition between school chefs.

  • Mr. Obama will participate a ceremony unveiling a statue of Rosa Parks to be placed in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol. The 9-foot, 2,700-pound bronze statue honors the civil rights icon who in 1955 was arrested after she disobeyed a state law requiring blacks to sit only in the rear seats of public buses and to give up those seats to whites when the bus was full. Parks’ arrest was a catalyst to the 381-day boycott of the bus system in Montgomery, Ala., an event that sparked the civil rights movement. Parks was the first woman to lie in honor in the Capitol rotunda and will be the first African American woman honored with a full-sized statue at the Capitol, according to the Associated Press.

  • Marie NewsHouse of Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics has launched a blog looking at think tanks and how they operate.

  • The new 49ers stadium may not be in San Francisco, but it will have a green roof and solar panels.

  • Today’s tidbit from NewsHour partner Face the Facts USA: More Americans — about 15 percent — do not pay owed federal taxes. Underpayment grew from $290 billion in 2001 to $400 billion in 2012.

NEWSHOUR ROUNDUP

  • NewsHour correspondents weigh in on “Women Who Made the World,” with Judy Woodruff penning an homage to Charlayne Hunter-Gault, who made history integrating the University of Georgia before she became an award-winning journalist. Ray Suarez honors the late Jane Holmes Dixon, the second bishop in the U.S. Episcopal Church, thankful for the strides she made as his own daughter heads to seminary. And Hari Sreenivasan highlights classes of inspirational activists in India and across the world who raise awareness of women’s inequality — and how it affects us all. Catch Judy’s interview with Gloria Steinem about the women’s movement and the documentary “MAKERS: Women Who Make America” here.

  • Marcia Coyle detailed the arguments in a case about whether it’s okay for police to collect DNA samples when arresting someone.

  • Don’t miss a fascinating look at a family who lived with wolves.

TOP TWEETS

Politics desk assistant Simone Pathe and Cassie M. Chew contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

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