Obama warns of 'self-inflicted' wound

President Obama on Tuesday traveled to a Navy shipyard in Newport News, Va., to argue allowing $85 billion in spending cuts to be triggered was “not smart” and would inflict a “self-inflicted wound” on the economy.

Obama once again pointed the finger at House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Congressional Republicans for stalling on the sequester, saying they “refuse to compromise even an inch” on closing tax loopholes.

“That’s what’s holding things up right now,” Obama said. “Keep in mind nobody is asking them to raise income tax rates. All we’re asking is to consider closing tax loopholes and deductions that the Speaker in the House John Boehner said he was willing to do just a few months ago.”

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"These cuts are wrong,” he told the crowd. “They're not smart. They're not fair. They're a self-inflicted wound that doesn't have to happen.”

Obama spoke just hours after Boehner, in some of his most colorful and pointed remarks about the sequester, called on the Senate to get “off its ass” and pass a bill to prevent the sequester.

Boehner argued that Republicans approved two bills last year to replace the sequester while the Senate did nothing. He now argues it is up to the Senate and Obama to put move their own bill on the sequester.

“We have moved a bill in the House twice. We should not have to move a third bill before the Senate gets off their ass and begins to do something,” Boehner told reporters in a press conference, repeating a message he had just delivered in a closed-door meeting of the House Republican conference.

The cuts will begin to be implemented on Friday without action by Congress, which looks unlikely. Republicans have said they will not agree to a deal that would replace part of the sequester with tax hikes after they agreed to a “fiscal cliff” deal last month that raised tax rates on wealthier households.

Obama and Democrats say they will not agree to replace the across-the-board sequester with a different package of spending cuts, as they say any replacement bill must also include new taxes.

Obama said Tuesday that he and Congressional Democrats are willing to compromise to reach a deal. But he sought to place the blame squarely on GOP lawmakers for not trying find a solution to the imminent deadline.

The president added that he and other lawmakers want to ensure that “we’re sharing the sacrifice in bringing down our deficit. We’re not just dumping it on a few people and we’re not doing it in a dumb way.”

But, repeating an argument he has made over the past several months, he added that “we can’t just cut our way to prosperity” and “Republicans in the House have to compromise as well. That’s what Democracy is all about.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday that the administration “has been engaged and will continue to be engaged with Congressional leaders,” and Obama was to meet Tuesday with GOP Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.).

But there was no sign of when a meeting between Obama and GOP leaders might take place.

The White House says Newport News Shipbuilding, the largest manufacturing employer in Virginia, would have “indiscriminate, across the board cuts” that would have “potentially harmful effects industry wide,” hampering the economy as well as military readiness.

The White House estimates about 90,000 civilian Department of Defense employees would be furloughed if the sequester takes effect.

If the spending cuts do happen, it would also cancel the maintenance of 11 ships in Norfolk, White House officials say, as well as delay other projects.

Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.) who traveled with Obama to Virginia on Tuesday, expressed frustration with Obama and Senate Democrats for not putting forward a plan to replace the sequester.

He also noted that the House approved a sequester-replacement bill twice last year, though he said he didn’t necessarily back the approach his Republican colleagues were taking.

“For those who believe that the sequester ought to be fully implemented, my response is this: Even if you hold the view that defense spending should come down, this is not the right way to do it,” Rigell said. “There are better alternatives to this.”

“I’ve also shared with my colleagues that I believe that a position that says we will reject a proposal if it has even a dollar increase in revenue, I don’t think that’s a wise position and I don’t hold that value.”