Picture courtesy of USA Today
By David Jackson, USA TODAY
President Obama will meet with congressional leaders Friday, the day that $85 billion in automatic budget cuts are set to take effect.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., confirmed the meeting in a statement Wednesday, calling Friday's scheduled session "an opportunity for us to visit with the president about how we can all keep our commitment to reduce Washington spending."
Obama is slated to meet with McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, as well as the top two Democrats in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Friday, March 1, is the first day of "the sequester," the $85 billion in automatic domestic and defense cuts that has triggered the latest budget standoff between the White House and congressional Republicans.
In repeated public appearances, Obama has called on congressional Republicans to avoid the sequestration by signing off on a new debt reduction plan that would include budget cuts and higher taxes. The latter would come by closing tax loopholes and ending deductions that benefit the wealthy, Obama has said.
"The sequester will weaken America's economic recovery," Obama told workers at a ship building factory Tuesday in Newport News, Va. "It will weaken our military readiness. And it will weaken the basic services that the American people depend on every single day."
Republicans oppose any tax hike, saying it would slow the economy; they have called on Obama to use "flexibility" in determining where to cut, to spare essential services.
In his statement, McConnell said spending should be the issue in tackling the nation's $16.6 trillion debt.
"We can either secure those reductions more intelligently, or we can do it the president's way with across-the board cuts," McConnell said. "But one thing Americans simply will not accept is another tax increase to replace spending reductions we already agreed to."
In his remarks Tuesday, Obama disputed the Republican notion that he has "flexibility" in deciding what to cut.
The sequester requires cuts of $85 billion over seven months, and "there's no smart way to do that," Obama said. He added that it basically boils down to deciding on whether to "close funding for the disabled kid, or the poor kid," or between "this Navy shipyard or some other one."