Obama 'prepared, eager and anxious' for sequester fight with Republicans

Obama 'prepared, eager and anxious' for sequester fight with Republicans

LANSDOWNE, Va. — President Obama told House Democrats on Thursday that he is "prepared, eager and anxious" to produce the broad fiscal package that has eluded Washington.

A pugnacious Obama told House Democrats at their annual retreat that, with $85 billion in automatic spending cuts looming in three weeks, he is ready to end the current “governance in crisis.”

But the president also said he believes the public favors the Democratic approach of spending cuts and tax increases over the GOP’s push to trim Medicare, Social Security and other safety net programs.

"If that's an argument they want to have in the court of public opinion, that is an argument I'm more than willing to engage in,” Obama said.

The president and other Democrats have called for getting rid of tax breaks used by oil-and-gas companies and hedge fund managers as part of a package to stop the sequester cuts. But Republicans have said that, in the wake of the recent "fiscal cliff" deal, they will not consent to any more tax increases.

Obama, in a 20-minute speech often punctuated by applause, also pushed the broader point that he thinks the public backs Democrats on a whole range of issues – from fiscal matters to immigration to gun control.

Several House Democrats snapped pictures of Obama with their phones as he approached the podium, underlining the pep rally feel of the speech.

Obama told the lawmakers they'll have to stick together in the months ahead in order to enact his second-term agenda.

“The bottom line is this, people, we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Obama said. “It won’t be smooth, it won’t be simple. There will be frustrations. There will be times you guys are mad at me, and I’ll occasionally read about it.”

And, Obama added, he thought Democrats would be rewarded at the polls if they completed that work. “I would expect that Nancy Pelosi would be Speaker again,” he said in closing his speech.

The president's appearance at the retreat came the day after a similar session in Annapolis where Obama hobnobbed with the Senate Democratic caucus and plotted strategy. Obama, who has been criticized by members of his own party for not communicating more often with them, suggested he will reach out to his friends on Capitol Hill.

Obama thanked House Democratic leaders, including Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) for helping elect "49 new outstanding members of this caucus. I am looking forward to spending time with all 49 of you. And hopefully we'll be seeing you over at the White House and at various events..."

Obama also previewed next week’s State of the Union address, which he said would touch on taxes, economic growth and even government shutdowns and energy independence.

On guns, Obama said that his administration would be respectful of cultural differences, a day after Vice President Biden made a harder sell on the need to act to prevent tragedies like the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December.

“A majority of responsible gun owners recognize we cannot have a situation where 20 more of our children, or 100 more of our children, or 1,000 more of our children, are shot and killed in a senseless fashion,” the president said.

Obama also stressed that immigration reform would be a “top priority” and that he was heartened that both Republicans and Democrats were already working hard on the issue.

“Now, is the time. I recognize that the politics aren’t always easy,” Obama said, adding that part of the country’s strength is “our history of attracting talent from all around the world.”

“We don’t have the monopoly on wisdom, and we need to remember that,” Obama noted. “Despite all those things, it’s also important for us to feel confident and bold about the values we care about and what we stand for.”

The president said he would make a “audible” and answer questions from House Democrats after his talk. Reporters were escorted out of the room before that began.

This story was updated at 6:42 p.m.