President Barack Obama delivered another stern warning about the potential consequences of sequestration during a Tuesday afternoon event at a shipbuilding plant in Newport News, VA. In a rare show of bipartisanship, the president was joined by U.S. Representative Scott Rigell (R-VA).
After touring the plant with Rigell, Obama took the stage to reiterate his opposition to the impending $85 billion in across-the-board cuts. “These cuts are wrong,” Obama said. “They’re not smart, they’re not fair, they are a self-inflicted wound that doesn’t have to happen.”
The president warned that sequester could force 90,000 Virginians who work for the Department of Defense to take unpaid leave from their jobs, causing a ripple effect that would damage the state economy. “The threat of these cuts has already forced the Navy to cancel the deployment and delay the repair of certain aircraft carriers,” Obama noted. He then went on to lay out the cuts’ dire consequences for education, law enforcement, and health care.
Calling the sequester “a dumb way” of reducing the federal budget deficit, the president slammed the Republican majority in the House of Representatives for refusing to compromise to avoid it.
“I’ve laid out a plan that details how we can pay down our deficit in a way that’s balanced and responsible” Obama said, referring to this document.
“But I’ve just got to be honest with you,” he continued. “Too many Republicans in Congress right now refuse to compromise even an inch when it comes to closing tax loopholes and special interest tax breaks. And that’s what’s holding things up right now.”
Although Rigell didn’t speak at the event, his presence loomed large. Before the event began, Rigell told reporters “I knew that I had to accept the invitation because that’s how I best serve the second district of Virginia.”
During his speech, Obama praised Rigell for breaking party lines. “I’ve got to give Scott Rigell credit,” Obama said, acknowledging the political risk for the second-term congressman. “That’s not always healthy for a Republican, being with me.”
Rigell isn’t the only Republican to publicly lobby the leaders of the House majority to make a deal. Over the weekend, several Republican governors spoke out in favor of compromise. Then on Monday, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said that he would back a budget deal averting the sequester by trading including $600 billion in new revenues for unspecified spending cuts; that leaves Graham’s position far closer to President Obama than to House Republicans, who have flatly refused to consider any deal that contains new tax revenue.
Republican leaders in the House have shown no indication they are willing to compromise with the president. During a Tuesday morning press conference, House Speaker John Boehner denied that the House bore any responsibility at all for the impasse, and instead passed the buck to the Democratic-controlled Senate.
“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 told reporters.
With the cuts scheduled to take effect Friday, there are still no serious negotiations to avoid them taking place. The House is not even scheduled to be in session on Friday, but Boehner has vowed to mobilize his majority in the extremely unlikely event that the Senate passes a bill by then.
President Obama’s speech can be seen below, via NBC News:
AP Photo/The Virginian-Pilot, Steve Earley