Updated at Noon:
Not everyone will feel the “pain” of budget cuts starting tonight, President Barack Obama said today.
“The pain will be real, though,” he said.
The president also attempted to lay the blame for the cuts squarely with the Congress going home this weekend. And, asked why he couldn’t keep them all in town and force action, he explained that he is “not a dictator” — he has no power of “Jedi Mind Meld.”
Obama’s West Wing remarks to the press followed a brief meeting at the White House with the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate — a meeting that Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio left without public comment — except to say that he’ll be back next week working on the budget.
The next hurdle faced is the March 27 expiration of a temporary budget resolution, which could result in a far greater problem than the budget sequestration starting tonight — a government shutdown — if Congress does not approve a new spending plan.
The White House is arguing for a “balanced approach” to a new spending plan, cuts coupled with new revenue. Obama wants to eliminate tax exemptions that enable top earners to pay lower taxes — while Republicans maintain that any elimination of exemptions must be coupled with lower tax rates, a broadening of the tax base that in the end is “revenue neutral” for the government.
“These cuts will hurt our economy, they’ll cost us jobs and to set it right, both sides need to compromise,” Obama said. “We shouldn’t be making a series of dumb, arbitrary cuts” ‘in services that businesses and Americans depend on
“The longer these cuts remain in place,” he said, the more danger to the economy — “a slow grind. ”
With every piece of economic news in the months ahead, he said, we will know that “that economic news could have been better had Congress not failed to act.”
“I do believe that we can and must replace these cuts with a more balanced approach,” the president said. That must include the elimination of tax exemptions as well as spending cuts, he said.
“There is a caucus of common sense up on Capitol Hill,” he said. “It’s just a silent group.”
How much responsibility does he bear for the cuts, the president was asked.
“The problem that we have is a long-term problem,” he said, pointing to the growing costs of federal health care programs. “I am prepared to take on the problem where it exists — on entitlements, and so some things my party really doesn’t like, if it’s part of a broader package… I am prepared to do hard things and to push my Democratic friends to do hard things. But what I can’t do is ask middle class families (and senior citizens) to bear the entire burden” when there are tax exemptions that allow the wealthy to avoid their “fair share. ”
“My hope is that, after some reflection, as members of Congress start hearing from constituents who are being negatively impacted, as we start seeing the impact that the sequester is having, that they step back and say, `All right, is there a way for us to move forward on a package”’ of entitlement and tax reforms. “I am just going to continue pushing on it… My hope is that, ultimately, common sense prevails.”
Couldn’t he just keep congressional leaders in the room until they reach a deal, he was asked by one reporter.
“I am not a dictator. I’m the president,” Obama said. “Ultimately, if Mitch McConnell or John Boehner say, `We have to go to meet a plane,’ I can’t have Secret Service block the doorway… I know this is the conventional wisdom floating around Washington…. the fact that they don’t take it means that somehow I should do a Jedi Mind Meld with these folks and convince them to do what’s right.”
“What I can do is make the best possible case for why we need to do the right thing… But ultimately, it’s a choice they make.”