Obama warns that sequester could derail February jobs surge

President Obama warned Saturday that automatic spending cuts known as the sequester threaten to stifle the surge in job growth the nation saw in February.

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Switching from the adversarial tone he has used to pressure Republican leaders in recent weeks, the president appealed to what he called the vision both parties share for the country.

“As Democrats and Republicans, we may disagree on the best way to achieve our goals, but I’m confident we can agree on what those goals should be,” Obama said in his weekly address.

He cited a vibrant middle class, an education system that gives more workers the skills to compete in the job market, a reformed immigration system and “safer streets for our children," a veiled reference to gun-violence reforms.

Obama acknowledged that progress on these issues “won’t be easy,” but sounded an optimistic tone.

“I still believe that compromise is possible. I still believe we can come together to do big things. And I know there are leaders on the other side who share that belief,” he said.

The president touted the February jobs report from the Labor Department showing the economy grew by 236,000 jobs and the unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent.

Wall Street analysts had predicted a job spurt between 150,000 and 160,000. In response, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rallied 67 points on Friday to close at an all-time high.

Obama noted the unemployment rate is now lower than when he took office after businesses created 6.4 million jobs over the past three years.

But he warned partisan battles in Washington could disrupt the recovery:

“The last thing we should do is allow Washington politics to get in the way,” he said. “You deserve better than the same political gridlock and refusal to compromise that has too often passed for serious debate over the last few years.”

He touted his recent outreach to Republicans, including a dinner with a dozen senators at the Jefferson Hotel in downtown Washington on Wednesday.

He said the group discussed “smarter ways to grow our economy and reduce our deficits than the arbitrary cuts of the so-called ‘sequester’ that recently went into place.” 

He said they also talked about potential common ground on immigration reform and gun-violence legislation.

Next week, he will meet with the Senate Democratic caucus on Tuesday, the House Republican conference on Wednesday and the Senate Republican conference and House Democratic caucus on Thursday.

Senate Republicans who have talked with the president in recent days say they expect him to convene other small gatherings to build bipartisan support for his agenda.

White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest on Friday declined to say when those more intimate meetings might take place or who might receive invitations.

He said the president would continue to engage with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

He said Wednesday’s dinner with rank-and-file members could be viewed “as an opportunity for the president to engage in a new line of communication and an open and constructive dialogue that could contribute to a solution.”

Indeed, Obama ended his address by emphasizing his willingness to find new allies.

“So I’ll keep fighting to solve the real challenges facing middle-class families. And I’ll enlist anyone who is willing to help. That’s what this country needs now – and that’s what you deserve,” he said.