“I am not a dictator,” President Obama said Friday while defending his efforts to stop the sequester. “I’m the president.”
Obama said there are limits to what he can do to get a deal on the sequester during a press conference in which he blamed Republicans for standing in the way of a deal.
The president was responding to a question about why he hadn’t locked the leaders into a room to get a deal. “So ultimately if Mitch McConnell or John Boehner say, ‘I have to catch a plane,’ I can’t have Secret Service block the doorway,” he said.
Obama met with Republican leaders Sen. McConnell (Ky.) and Speaker Boehner (Ohio) before the press conference. He has been criticized by Republicans for not doing more to try to reach a deal. GOP leaders say he has been more interested in blaming Republicans for the $85 billion in automatic cuts set to be triggered on Friday than in crafting a deal.
But Obama on Friday characterized himself as the reasonable party in the talks and someone who couldn’t force Republicans to make a deal.
“I know that this has been some of the conventional wisdom that’s been floating around Washington that even though most people agree that I’m being reasonable, that most people agree that I’m presenting a fair deal, the fact that they don’t take it means that I should somehow do a Jedi mind-meld and convince them” to agree on a deal, Obama said.
Obama on Friday said the nation will survive the sequester, though he said it would be painful for many people.
“We will get through this. This is not going to be an apocalypse, I think as some people have said,” Obama said following the 52-minute meeting with Boehner, McConnell, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
“It’s just dumb. And it’s going to hurt. It’s going to hurt individual people and it’s going to hurt the economy over all,” he said.
The sequester is set to begin on Friday and will cause across-the-board cuts to defense and domestic discretionary spending. Thousands of federal workers are expected to be furloughed, but not until April, so the pain from the cuts will be felt over time.
Lawmakers and Obama appeared to make no progress toward a resolution during the meeting.
Boehner told reporters the House has already voted twice on measure to replace the sequester, and “shouldn’t have to pass a third bill.”
He also reiterated his position that Republicans will accept no new tax hikes to replace the sequester, something demanded by Obama and Democrats.
“The discussion about revenue is over,” Boehner said.
Inside the meeting, Boehner delivered a message personally to Obama and the other congressional leaders that he has given repeatedly to reporters and privately to the House Republican conference in recent days.
The Speaker urged Obama and Senate Democrats to present a plan to replace the sequester that could pass the Democratic-led Senate, according to a summary of the meeting provided by Boehner’s office. And in a sign the Speaker has little interest in trekking back-and-forth to the White House for high-level private negotiations, he “suggested the most productive way to resolve the sequester issue will be through regular order,” Boehner’s office said.
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