Boehner calls on Obama to help Congress alter automatic cuts

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday called on President Obama to intercede in the growing push to change the automatic spending cuts to military and domestic programs triggered by the congressional supercommittee’s failure to strike a deficit-reduction deal.

The $1.2 trillion in across-the-board cuts will take effect in 2013, and Republican leaders, along with some Democrats, have said they want to change them to protect the military. Obama has threatened to veto any effort to undo the trigger, known as sequestration, although the White House is still pushing for a broad deficit pact.

“I really believe that the president of the United States has a responsibility here as well,” Boehner told reporters. “He’s the commander in chief, he knows what those cuts will mean to the military and so I frankly believe the Congress still must work with the president to find a solution to our long-term debt.”

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Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has sounded repeated warnings about the negative impact the Pentagon cuts would have on the military.

The Speaker is in a difficult position when it comes to the automatic cuts. He negotiated the August agreement that put them in place, and he said last month that he felt “morally bound” to stick to the trigger, which was created as an incentive for the supercommittee to come to a deal. But with concerns mounting within his own party, he has opened the door to changing the cuts so long as the minimum of $1.2 trillion in budget savings is maintained.

“No one really wants to go there,” Boehner said, referring to sequestration.

He also signaled Thursday that he had not given up on a grand bargain to reduce the long-term debt.

Aides say House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) is trying to find a way to change the automatic cuts in a broader deal that would encompass year-end issues such as the extension of the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance. Boehner would not say on Thursday whether he supports that particular effort.

“There are a lot of members who are concerned about the defense cuts, but understand there are a lot of other cuts that would be involved in the sequester,” Boehner said when asked about Cantor’s bid. “So I understand the concern, but the president is the commander in chief. The president, I think, understands pretty clearly that these cuts do serious harm to our ability to defend our country and our allies about the world. So I believe there’s a role that he has to play in this process as well.”

Republicans previously have criticized the president for a lack of involvement in the supercommittee process. 

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