By Russell Berman, Amie Parnes and Alexander Bolton - 02/27/13 01:09 AM EST
A salty Speaker John Boehner on Tuesday called on members of the Senate to “get off their ass” as the Capitol’s half-hearted efforts to stave off sequestration took a turn for the profane.
“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 (R-Ohio) told reporters in a press conference Tuesday morning.
“I think he should understand who is sitting on their posterior,” Reid said. “We’re doing our best here to pass something. The Speaker is doing nothing to try to pass anything over there.”
Partisan finger-pointing has trumped negotiations as Congress and the White House barrel toward the March 1 deadline for replacing or modifying $85 billion in spending cuts to military and domestic programs. Leaders in both parties have likened the cuts to a “meat cleaver” approach to deficit reduction that could cost jobs and undermine military readiness, but have yet to engage in serious talks on reversing them.
President Obama tried to spur Congress into action with a rally Tuesday in Virginia. Appearing at a Navy shipyard in Newport News, Obama blamed Boehner and congressional Republicans for refusing to bend on his call for more tax revenues in a sequester fix. He said allowing the $85 billion reduction in federal spending would amount to a “self-inflicted wound” on the economy.
“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.”
Republican leaders have ruled out using new revenue for deficit reduction, but some members of the party have challenged that stance.
Obama was joined at the Newport News rally by Virginia Rep. Scott Rigell, a Republican from a nearby district who has urged his leaders to consider Democratic proposals on sequestration.
Rigell did not speak at the event, but Obama was keen to highlight his presence.
“I’ve got to give Scott Rigell credit,” Obama said. “He is one of your Republican congressmen who’s with us here today — and that’s not always healthy for a Republican, being with me.
“But the reason he’s doing it is because he knows it’s important to you,” Obama added. “And he’s asked his colleagues in the House to consider closing tax loopholes instead of letting these automatic cuts go through. He’s concerned about the deficit, and he’s more than prepared to make some really tough cuts, but he wants to do it in a smart way.”
Rigell, who traveled with Obama to Virginia on Air Force One, expressed frustration with the president and Senate Democrats for not putting forward a plan to replace the automatic cuts.
He noted that the House approved a sequester-replacement bill twice last year, though he said he didn’t necessarily back the approach that his Republican colleagues have taken.
“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 told reporters. “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.”
Rigell’s appearance with the president was a rarity for House Republicans, who have largely opposed Obama during his presidency. And it offered a hand to a White House that has sought to highlight Republican divisions over sequestration.
“I understand my friend and colleague being concerned about jobs in his district, but we have got to do something to stop this spending situation in the nation’s capital,” said a fellow Virginia Republican, Rep. Morgan Griffith. “If this is the only way we can get the president and Senate Democrats to understand that we’re serious about cutting the budget, then here we go.”
Griffith said he didn’t hold it against Rigell for taking a highly publicized plane ride with the president.
“He is the president of the United States. If the president invites you to fly on Air Force One, you have to think long and hard about saying no.”
Boehner has argued the House does not need to act again on a sequester bill this week because it’s already passed two proposals to replace the cuts in the last Congress.
But Reid noted that legislation passed last year is no longer valid in the 113th Congress.
“We have something called the Constitution that [requires] you have to start over again every two years,” Reid said. “The reason he’s not bringing up something over there is he can’t pass it. He can’t get his caucus to agree on anything.”
The Senate plans to vote on competing Democratic and Republican proposals to replace or alter sequestration, but neither is expected to achieve the 60-vote threshold needed to pass. The House is not scheduled to be in session Friday, when the cuts will begin to take effect, but the Speaker said the lower chamber would be prepared to respond to Senate action.
“If the Senate acts, I’m sure the House will act quickly,” he said.
House Republicans plan to meet on Wednesday for the second day in a row to discuss budget matters, including sequestration and legislation to extend federal government spending through the end of the year once the current appropriation expires on March 27.
The bill assumes the spending cuts in sequestration take effect this year and would include full appropriations for the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. It could be on the House floor next week, a GOP aide said.