Obama rejects GOP call to appropriate sequester cuts

<i>This post has been corrected, as indicated below.</i>

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- President Obama rejected Republican suggestions Tuesday that he should have more power to carry out $85 billion in pending budget cuts, and instead urged Congress to work out a better solution that involves raising revenue through taxes on the wealthy.

Obama told shipyard workers that he doesn’t want responsibility for apportioning the looming “sequester” cuts because there is no wise way to do it.

“The problem is, when you’re cutting $85 billion in seven months,” Obama said, “there’s no smart way to do that. 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?’”

Hundreds of workers at Newport News Shipbuilding applauded Obama’s idea of staving off the cuts for a few weeks and then coming up with a budget compromise that closes loopholes and deductions to do away with the need for some of the spending cuts.

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The draconian cuts are set to take effect automatically Friday as part of a deal Republicans and Democrats crafted months ago to try to force themselves to come to a bigger budget deal.

That deal has eluded them, and now all sides are resigning themselves to the fact that across-the-board cuts will kick in as scheduled. Republicans are contemplating offering legislation that would give the administration more authority to decide which programs get cut, so that he could steer around the most critical programs.

The Senate could consider that proposal this week, and the House could take up the issue as part of another budget bill next week.

If it passed, it could give the president more ownership of cuts he has worked for weeks to distance himself from.

Tuesday’s trip to Virginia was only the latest event in which he spoke in gloomy terms about the possible effects of the cuts and publicly laid the responsibility for averting them on Congress.

Even if he had more power to carry out the cuts, Obama said, “you can’t gloss over the pain” they would cause.

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“Only Congress has the power to pass a law that stops these damaging cuts and replaces them” with more sensible alternatives, Obama said.

He spoke on the cavernous factory floor of the largest manufacturing employer in Virginia, a few yards away from a hulking mass of black steel -- one of the submarine hulls made at the shipyard.

In Virginia alone, the White House says, about 90,000 civilian Department of Defense employees would be forced to take unpaid time off if the sequester takes effect.

As he toured the facility, Obama was accompanied by Rep. Scott Rigell, a Virginia Republican who has said that GOP leaders should at least consider a compromise that includes closing tax loopholes. Rigell did not speak to the crowd, but flew to the event with Obama aboard Air Force One.

Before boarding the plane, Rigell told a pool of White House press corps members that he favors raising revenues through tax reform and spending cuts as part of a budget agreement to avoid the effects of the sequester.

At the shipyard, community members and workers were roundly worried about the sequester cuts -- and not in agreement with Obama that the onus is on Republicans to stave them off.

“It seems like more of the same -- just gridlock,” said David Tew, a financial analyst in the submarine program who came to the factory floor to hear Obama speak. “It’s not just one side that’s responsible. It’s everybody.”

Frankie Taylor, an electrician and foreman, said it’s “horrible what’s happening in Washington.”

“They’re acting like kindergartners,” he said. “They need to get together.”

[For the Record, 2:44 p.m. PST Feb. 26: The spelling of David Tew’s name has been corrected.]

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[For the Record, 12:46 p.m. PST Jan. 4: An earlier version of this post said X. Actually, it’s X.]