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Obama reaches out to Republican leaders as budget cuts loom

Larry Downing / REUTERS

U.S. President Barack Obama discusses the automatic budget cuts scheduled to take effect next week, while in the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in the White House complex in Washington February 19, 2013.

President Barack Obama reached out to the Republican leaders of the House and Senate on Thursday, the first sign in weeks that the two sides could be willing to work on a bipartisan solution to the potentially devastating spending cuts set to take place March 1.

White House spokesman Jay Carney announced the president had reached out to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner to address the automatic $85 billion in cuts set to kick in next month. Carney described the calls as “good conversations” but provided no more details.


McConnell’s office said it was the first time Obama has reached out since New Year’s Eve when Congress struggled to come to an agreement on the across-the-board spending cuts known as the “fiscal cliff.”

And while there was no official readout of the meetings, sniping on Twitter between Carney and Boehner Press Secretary Brenden Buck may be an indication that both sides have a ways to go.

Carney tweeted at Buck a USA Today/Pew poll showing American support for the president’s deficit reduction plan, ending his post with the hashtag “GOPoutOFTouch?”  

Buck mockingly tweeted back, “What do you say we show up here every afternoon, say 4:00ish? Talk it out?”

And both parties are still accusing the other of not wanting to come to the table to negotiate. During an appearance on Al Sharpton’s radio show on Thursday, President Obama remarked, "At this point, we continue to reach out to Republicans and say this is not going to be good for the economy, it's not going to be good for ordinary people."

"But I don't know if they're going to move and that's what we're going to have to keep pushing over the next seven, eight days," he told Sharpton, who also hosts a show on MSNBC.

Obama will keep pushing by continuing to take his case to the American people next week. On Tuesday he’ll visit Newport News, Va., an area where the automatic spending cuts, known as sequestration, would hit hard.  

Carney said the president plans to “highlight the fact that there will be real-world impacts to the implementation of the sequester … if Republicans choose to allow that to happen.”

Republicans have tried waging a public campaign of their own trying to place the onus on the president, especially when it comes to national defense. And Pentagon officials from Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta down have warned that sequestration could severely inhibit national defense, a responsibility that would rest on the head of the nation’s military.

“As the commander-in-chief, President Obama is ultimately responsible for our military readiness, so it’s fair to ask: what is he doing to stop his sequester that would ‘hollow out’ our Armed Forces?” Boehner said on Wednesday.

On Thursday, Carney said the president does feel responsible but rejects what he described as Republicans' “my way or the highway” approach to negotiating.

"My sense is that their basic view is that nothing is important enough to raise taxes on wealthy individuals or corporations and they would prefer to see these kinds of cuts that could slow down our recovery over closing tax loopholes," Obama told Sharpton. "That's the thing that binds their party together at this point."  

Related:

Sequester madness: What it is, why it matters