WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama brushed off a Republican plan Tuesday to give him flexibility to allocate $85 billion in looming spending cuts, wanting no part of a deal that would force him to choose between the bad and the terrible.
Three days out and no closer to any agreement, both parties sought to saddle the other with the blame for the painful ramification of the across-the-board cuts set to kick in Friday.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other top Republicans were lining up behind a plan that wouldn’t replace the cuts but would give Obama’s agency heads, such as incoming Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, greater discretion in distributing the cuts. The idea is that money could be transferred from lower-priority accounts to others that fund air traffic control or meat inspection.
But Obama, appearing at a Virginia shipbuilding site that he said would sit idle should the cuts go through, rejected the idea, saying there’s no smart way to cut such a large chunk from the budget over just seven months – the amount of time left in the fiscal year.
“You don’t want to have to choose between, ‘Let’s see, do I close funding for the disabled kid, or the poor kid? Do I close this Navy shipyard or some other one?”’ Obama said. “You can’t gloss over the pain and the impact it’s going to have on the economy.”
Giving the Obama administration more authority could take pressure off of Congress to address the sequester. But the White House is also keenly aware that it would give Republicans an opening to blame Obama, instead of themselves, for every unpopular cut he makes.