Politics
President Barack Obama gestures as he speaks at the House Democratic Issues Conference in Lansdowne, Va., Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) President Barack Obama gestures as he speaks at the House Democratic Issues Conference in Lansdowne, Va., Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)  

Obama threatens popular spending programs, blames GOP

Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

White House officials have identified some of the high-profile programs that President Barack Obama has threatened to slash via the 2011 sequester law, unless the GOP agrees to new taxes.

Republicans, in response, say they have offered alternatives to the 2011 plan to automatically cut $90 billion from spending programs by October. They have labeled the cuts as the “Obama-quester,” even though both parties agreed to the cuts in 2011.

Obama has a wide ability to pick and choose the cuts, because the sequester law said only that the cuts would be taken equally from defense and domestic programs.

The programs identified by Obama include many supported by the GOP — such as funding for science, food safety, education and small business — but few programs that are only backed by Obama and his progressive coalition.

The exempt programs include green-energy spending, funding for Planned Parenthood, enforcement of environmental regulations, funding for Obamacare and billions in foreign aid.

Obama’s announcement is a repeat of a traditional “gold watch” budget tactic, in which the president identifies high-profile and painful cuts to maximize his political leverage. Previous presidents, for example, have threatened to shut down the national parks in summer and close the Washington Monument in D.C.

But the circumstances are different now, because the sequester was proposed by President Barack Obama in 2011. Members of Congress from both parties approved the sequester, most with the hope that it would never be implemented.

Obama pushed it during closed-door budget negotiations as a harsh punishment for the congressional supercommittee’s failure to agree on budget cuts. Since then, Obama has repeatedly taken credit for the scheduled sequester cuts, which automatically trim $1.2 trillion from the 10-year, $47 trillion federal spending plan.

“Obama owns the sequester. He proposed it. He threatened to veto [any bill] getting rid of it,” said a statement from the National Republican Conference Committee.

However, the economy shrank by 0.1 percent in the last quarter of 2012, increasing Democratic opposition to spending cuts that can slow down the economy.

“We’re glad they’re laying out the devastating consequences of the president’s sequester, but the question remains: what are they willing to DO to prevent it?” said a statement from Brendan Buck, press aide to House Speaker John Boehner.

“We proposed a different mechanism to force deficit reduction in 2011,” he said. “We’ve twice passed legislation to replace it with common sense cuts and reforms.”

During the so-called “fiscal cliff” negotiations, “the president got his higher taxes on the wealthy last month — with no corresponding cuts. It’s time to finally make the cuts and reforms we all know are needed to save and strengthen our safety net programs,” Buck said. “The president is out of excuses.”