Obama goes local in sequester fight


President Obama is using some of the eight interviews he conducted Wednesday with local television stations to blast Republicans over the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts set to hit the government on March 1.

“What I want to say is that it's not necessary,” Obama told Boston's WCVB, when asked about looming job losses because of the automatic government spending cuts.

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He said the sequester, which was part of a bill he signed into law in 2011 was something “designed to be avoided.”

The interview with WCVB is part of a public relations effort Obama designed to win over the public to his side in the fight over the sequester, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates will reduce hiring by 750,000 and take 0.7 percent from economic growth.

Obama on Tuesday held a press event to highlight the effects the spending cuts would have on first responders, some of whom the White House says will be furloughed if the sequester goes forward.

On Wednesday, Obama was expected to address the sequester in several of the interviews with local television stations. Obama frequently uses interviews with local television stations to take his message beyond the Beltway media and directly to local broadcasters, who can be expected to lead their news coverage with the interviews with Obama.

The spending cuts are widely expected to be implemented on March 1 given the distance between Obama and congressional Republicans over how to replace them, leaving both sides focused more on who will get the blame from voters. Obama wants the cuts replaced with both spending cuts and tax hikes, while Republicans say the cuts should only be replaced with different spending cuts.

With Congress out of town for the week, Obama has seized the opportunity to win the public relations game, in part by countering the GOP argument that the sequester was the White House’s idea, and that Obama is largely responsible for it.

Obama said the sequester was created as part of the 2011 deal to raise the debt ceiling to put pressure on both parties to agree to a deficit-reduction plan. Winning Republican support to raise the debt ceiling was the priority, he suggested.

“The idea was that Democrats and Republicans would come together with a sensible deficit reduction program,” he told the Boston television station, adding “Republicans were threatening to default on the country's debt. We had to avoid that.”

The White House at the time saw the sequester’s threatened cuts to the Pentagon and social spending as a way to ensure that both Democrats and Republicans would come to the table for deficit reduction.

“The hope was that they would use this year-and-a-half to come up with a sensible deficit reduction package,” Obama told the station.

Republicans have hammered Obama for not releasing his own plan to replace the $85 billion in cuts. They also fault Obama for demanding new taxes after the “fiscal cliff” deal raised tax rates on annual household income above $450,000.

The White House argues more tax revenue should be raised to replace the sequester through eliminating tax breaks on special interest groups or the rich.

The chief proposal from Senate Democrats would introduce a minimum 30 percent tax rate on millionaires, but the White House has also targeted other tax provisions, such as a rule that allows corporate jets to be depreciated over a five-year period instead of the seven-year period for commercial aircraft.

“What we don't want to do is give somebody who's buying a corporate jet an extra tax break that ordinary people can't get because they don't need it. And that's not the reason they buy a corporate jet,” Obama told KAKE, the Wichita, Kan. ABC affiliate.

Obama will continue his media blitz Wednesday, scheduling a series of radio interviews with African American hosts Al Sharpton, Joe Madison and Yolanda Adams in the Oval Office.

The subjects addressed in Wednesday’s interviews were not limited to the sequester.

Obama discussed gun control with WCSC in Charleston, S.C., emphasizing that he wanted to protect the second amendment in the face of criticism from gun advocates.

“We want to make sure that we are respecting people's privacy,” he said. “We want to encourage people to get mental health service. But what we also know is that background checks can work if they are done properly.”