White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said there have been no recent negotiations between the White House and Republicans in Congress on an agreement to avoid the looming sequestration cuts.
In an interview on NBC's "Today," Jarrett was asked directly if there had been any recent meetings between the two parties, ahead of the across-the-board spending cuts slated to take effect on March 1.
“There haven’t,” said Jarrett. “We had the issue at the end of the last year, and over the last few weeks we’ve been preparing and gearing up. The president made it clear numerous times that he welcomes the opportunity to sit down with Republicans in Congress and work out a deal.”
Members in both parties say the sequester will damage national security with its cuts to the Pentagon and other programs, but Congress has little time left to act before the Presidents Day recess next week.
Jarrett's comments come ahead of the president's Tuesday night State of the Union address, where he will make the case that the sequester cuts could damage the economic recovery and call for new tax revenues to tackle the deficit.
“As you saw at the end of last year, we made a great deal of progress — the president and Speaker [John] Boehner [(R-Ohio)] were really just moments apart from reaching a deal, and unfortunately the Republicans were unwilling to do the deal we proposed,” she said. “The president proposed a balanced approach, one that includes both spending cuts as well as rate increases — and that’s the way that we have to get ourselves to a healthy budget.”
Aides told The Hill on Monday that Senate Democrats were aiming to produce a bill to replace the sequester by Thursday. The bill would include tax increases and spending cuts, and it would replace the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts.
The White House at this point is deferring to Senate Democrats to take the lead on a sequester replacement. Obama last week called on Congress to at least pass a short-term delay as wider budget matters are worked out.
But Republicans say they allowed new tax revenues in the fiscal-cliff deal and are unwilling to accept more tax hikes in a sequester bill.
Jarrett said Obama had "presented a range of options for how we can get our fiscal house in order."
"He’s looking for a big deal," she said. "But if we can’t get a big deal, let’s at least try to come to terms on a smaller deal that prevents the sequestration from kicking in."