Obama: 'Hope springs eternal' for deal on avoiding automatic cuts

President Obama said that with less than a week before $85 billion of automatic across-the-board cuts hit, he still believes that lawmakers "have the opportunity to make the right decisions" to avert the sequester.

"Hope springs eternal," Obama said during a brief press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. "And I will just keep on making my case not only to Congress, but more importantly the American people to take a smart approach to deficit reduction and do it in a way that doesn’t endanger our economy and endanger jobs."

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The president added that he did not see the sequester as "inevitable," even as many in Washington began bracing for the increasingly likely event that no deal to turn off the sequester cuts would be reached.

“We always have the opportunity to make the right decisions, and I’ve been very clear that these kinds of arbitrary, automatic cuts would have an adverse impact on families, on teachers, on parents who are reliant on Head Start programs, on our military readiness, on mental-health services, on medical research,” he said. “This is not a smart way for us to reduce the deficit.”

Obama added that "this should be a no-brainer."

The White House has sought all week to ratchet up pressure on congressional Republicans, hoping the GOP would agree to a plan that offset the sequester with a combination of tax breaks and spending cuts. White House press secretary Jay Carney said Friday the administration would be open to a offset that delayed the automatic trigger for as little as two months and included $2 in spending cuts for every $1 in new tax revenue, in the hopes of prompting a long-term deficit deal.

Republicans have insisted that they will only replace the sequester with other spending cuts and entitlement reforms, arguing they already conceded a rate increase on the wealthiest Americans in the January fiscal-cliff deal. Leaders in the House have also said the next movement on a sequester deal should come from the Senate, arguing the president should be pressuring those in his own party to strike a deal.

"Soundbites and speeches won’t yield results," Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), said in a statement. "If President Obama is serious about protecting America’s economy and national security, he needs to force the part of Congress he controls – the U.S. Senate – to act. Trying to drive up Republicans’ negative poll numbers by posing with first responders and the men and women of America’s Armed Forces while making vague calls for higher taxes won’t solve the problem."