White House decries Boehner's 'list of demands' on sequester

White House press secretary Jay Carney said on Thursday that a “list of demands” put out by Speaker John Boehner on the so-called sequester is “terrible,” and urged Republicans to reconsider their approach on the looming spending cuts.

In comments to reporters at an off-camera briefing, Carney said President Obama is worried Republicans are willing to allow $85 billion in spending cuts to go forward on March 1. Obama earlier this week argued those cuts would hamper the economy just as it is showing signs of growing.

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Neither Obama nor Boehner (R-Ohio) have offered any specific plans this year to replace the $85 billion sequester, which would hit the Pentagon and domestic discretionary spending. During the last Congress, the GOP-led House narrowly passed legislation that would avert the sequester. With a smaller majority, Republicans have no plans to move a bill before the end of the month.

Obama has called for the sequester to be replaced with a combination of spending cuts and tax hikes, while Boehner and Republicans say that it should only be replaced by other spending cuts. Obama is scheduled to address the House Democratic retreat on Thursday and is likely to talk about the sequester.

Boehner on Wednesday decried the sequester as taking a “meat axe” to programs, but said he would not agree to delay the cuts unless there was an agreement to replace them with a new package of spending cuts. He said he would not agree to include any tax hikes as part of a replacement package.

The White House said Carney’s “list of demands” comment was in reference to a story in Politico quoting a GOP leadership aide listing 10 options that Republicans could consider to replace the sequester.

A GOP aide told The Hill that Boehner has not floated any new ideas to the White House and that the options on the table stem from various deficit discussions over the last two years.

The options included raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67, and adjusting the formula by which government benefits are calculated for inflation under programs like Medicare and Social Security in a less generous way. The calculation is known as the chained consumer price index.

Obama in December offered to adjust the chained CPI as part of negotiations with Boehner over the “fiscal cliff” of tax hikes scheduled this year.

The GOP aide also told Politico that Republicans favored finding additional savings in government pension programs, changing Medicare premiums and revising the Medicare-provider tax.

Carney on Thursday said such changes would take benefits away from the elderly and others who rely on them.

“The Speaker has come up with a list of demands, of cuts, that would have to be in place for him to agree to buy down the sequester, and guess what? They’re terrible," Carney said at the briefing Thursday.

He added that the demands by Republicans are part of a “public relations effort” to change the way the Republican Party is viewed on these matters.

“I don't know where Republicans have been of late but that is not a winning approach,” Carney said. “It is not an approach the American people support and it is not an approach that this president will accept. We need balance.

"We think we can make tough choices but we have to do it in a way that is balanced and fair for everybody," Carney added.

Republicans argue the “fiscal cliff” agreement in January included only tax hikes, and that future efforts to bring down the deficit should focus on spending cuts.

“We believe there’s a better way to lower the deficit,” Boehner said Wednesday. “But Americans do not support sacrificing real spending cuts for more tax hikes. The president’s sequester should be replaced with spending cuts.”

—Erik Wasson contributed to this story, which was updated at 1:20 p.m.